Movie and TV Reviews

Toronto International Film Festival Spotlight

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All My Puny Sorrows (Photo courtesy of AMPS Productions Inc.)
Earwig (Photo courtesy of Anti-Worlds, Petit Film and Frakas Production)
Lakewood (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)
Montana Story (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)
Saloum (Photo courtesy of Lacme Studios)
Terrorizers (Photo courtesy of Changhe Films)
To Kill the Beast (Photo courtesy of The Party Film Sales)

Reviews for New Movies Releasing August 6 – September 24, 2021

499 (Photo by Alejandro Mejia/AMC/Cinema Guild)
Annette (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)
Blood Conscious (Photo courtesy of Dark Sky Films)
Blue Bayou (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
Buckley’s Chance (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Candyman (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
The Card Counter (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World (Photo courtesy of House of Kicks and Park Pictures)
Chehre (Photo courtesy of Anand Pandit Motion Pictures)
CODA (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)
Copshop (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films)
Cryptozoo (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
Dating & New York (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)
Dear Evan Hansen (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
Demonic (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
Don’t Breathe 2 (Photo by Sergej Radovic/Screen Gems)
The East (Photo by Milan Van Dril/Magnet Releasing)
Escape From Mogadishu (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)
The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)
Flag Day (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.)
Free Guy (Photo by Alan Markfield/20th Century Studios)
It Takes Three (Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)
John and the Hole (Photo by Paul Özgür/IFC Films)
Karen (Photo courtesy of Quiver Distribution)
Los Últimos Frikis (Photo courtesy of Topic)
Ma Belle, My Beauty (Photo by Lauren Guiteras/Good Deed Entertainment)
Naked Singularity (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)
The Night House (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)
PAW Patrol: The Movie (Image courtesy of Spin Master/Paramount Pictures)
Playing God (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
The Protégé (Photo by Jichici Raul/Lionsgate)
Queenpins (Photo courtesy of STX)
Raging Fire (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)
Rare Beasts (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)
Respect (Photo by Quantrell D. Colbert/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)
Rushed (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Saving Paradise (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)
The Suicide Squad (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
Swan Song (Photo by Chris Stephens/Magnolia Pictures)
Tango Shalom (Photo courtesy of Vision Films)
Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures/Voltage Pictures)
Together (Photo by Peter Mountain/Bleecker Street)
Under the Volcano (Photo by Martyn Goddard/Universal Pictures Content Group)
Un Rescate de Huevitos (Photo courtesy of Pantelion Films)
We Need to Do Something (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

Complete List of Reviews

1BR — horror

2/1 — drama

2 Graves in the Desert — drama

2 Hearts — drama

2 Minutes of Fame — comedy

5 Years Apart — comedy

7 Days (2021) — comedy

8 Billion Angels — documentary

The 8th Night — horror

9to5: The Story of a Movement — documentary

12 Hour Shift — horror

12 Mighty Orphans — drama

17 Blocks — documentary

37 Seconds — drama

76 Days — documentary

The 420 Movie (2020) — comedy

499 — docudrama

2040 — documentary

7500 — drama

Aamis — drama

Abe — drama

About Endlessness — comedy/drama

Above Suspicion (2021) — drama

Adverse — drama

Advocate — documentary

The Affair (2021) (formerly titled The Glass Room) — drama

After Class (formerly titled Safe Spaces) — comedy/drama

After Parkland — documentary

After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News — documentary

Ailey — documentary

AKA Jane Roe — documentary

Algorithm: Bliss — sci-fi/horror

All Day and a Night — drama

All I Can Say — documentary

All In: The Fight for Democracy — documentary

All Light, Everywhere — documentary

All My Life — drama

All My Puny Sorrows — drama

All Roads to Pearla (formerly titled Sleeping in Plastic) — drama

All the Bright Places — drama

Almost Love (also titled Sell By) — comedy/drama

Alone (2020) (starring Jules Willcox) — horror

Alone (2020) (starring Tyler Posey) — horror

Amazing Grace (2018) — documentary

American Fighter — drama

An American Pickle — comedy

American Street Kid — documentary

American Woman (2020) — drama

Ammonite — drama

Amulet — horror

And Then We Danced — drama

Annette — musical

Another Round — drama

Antebellum — horror

Anthony — drama

Apocalypse ’45 — documentary

The Apollo — documentary

The Arbors — sci-fi/horror

The Argument — comedy

Army of the Dead (2021) — horror

Artemis Fowl — fantasy

The Artist’s Wife — drama

Ascension (2021) — documentary

Ask for Jane — drama

Ask No Questions — documentary

As of Yet — comedy/drama

The Assistant — drama

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal — documentary

Athlete A — documentary

Attack of the Murder Hornets — documentary

Baby God — documentary

Babysplitters — comedy

Babyteeth — drama

Bacurau — drama

Bad Boys for Life — action

Bad Detectives (formerly titled Year of the Detectives) — drama

Bad Education (2020) — drama

Bad Therapy (formerly titled Judy Small) — comedy/drama

Ballad of a White Cow — drama

Banana Split — comedy

Banksy and the Rise of Outlaw Art — documentary

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar — comedy

Beanpole — drama

Beast Beast — drama

Beastie Boys Story — documentary

Becoming — documentary

Behind You — horror

Beneath Us — horror

Big Time Adolescence — comedy/drama

The Big Ugly — drama

Billie (2020) — documentary

Bill & Ted Face the Music — sci-fi/comedy

The Binge — comedy

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) — action

Black Bear — drama

Blackbird (2020) — drama

Black Box (2020) — horror

Black Is King — musical

Black Magic for White Boys — comedy

Black Widow (2021) — action

Blast Beat — drama

Blessed Child — documentary

Blithe Spirit (2021) — comedy

Blood and Money — drama

Blood Conscious — horror

Blood on Her Name — drama

Bloodshot (2020) — sci-fi/action

Bloody Hell — horror

Blow the Man Down — drama

Blue Bayou (2021) — drama

Blue Story — drama

Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island — horror

Body Cam — horror

The Body Fights Back — documentary

Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry) — comedy/drama

Boogie — drama

The Booksellers — documentary

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm — comedy

The Boss Baby: Family Business — animation

The Boys (first episode) — action

Brahms: The Boy II — horror

Breaking Fast — comedy

Breaking News in Yuba County — comedy

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists — documentary

The Broken Hearts Gallery — comedy

Brothers by Blood (formerly titled The Sound of Philadelphia) — drama

Browse — drama

Buckley’s Chance — drama

Buffaloed — comedy

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn — documentary

Burden (2020) — drama

Burning Cane — drama

Burn It All — drama

The Burnt Orange Heresy — drama

Cactus Jack — horror

Cagefighter — drama

Calendar Girl — documentary

The Call of the Wild (2020) — live-action/animation

A Call to Spy — drama

Call Your Mother — documentary

Candyman (2021) — horror

Cane River — drama

Capone — drama

The Card Counter — drama

Carmilla — drama

Castle in the Ground — drama

Catch the Fair One — drama

Censor (2021) — horror

Centigrade — drama

Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World — documentary

Changing the Game (2021) — documentary

Chasing the Present — documentary

Chasing Wonders — drama

Chehre — drama

Chick Fight — comedy

Children of the Sea — animation

Chinese Doctors — drama

Chop Chop — horror

Circus of Books — documentary

City of Lies — drama

The Clearing (2020) — horror

Clementine — drama

Cliff Walkers (formerly titled Impasse) — drama

The Climb (2020) — comedy/drama

Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind: Contact Has Begun — documentary

Clover — drama

Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert — documentary

CODA — comedy/drama

Coded Bias (formerly titled Code for Bias) — documentary

Coffee & Kareem — comedy

Collective — documentary

Color Out of Space — sci-fi/horror

The Columnist — horror

Come as You Are (2020)  — comedy

Come Play — horror

Come to Daddy — horror

Come True — sci-fi/drama

Coming 2 America — comedy

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It — horror

Console Wars — documentary

Copshop (2021) — action

The Cordillera of Dreams — documentary

Count Basie: Through His Own Eyes — documentary

The Courier (2021) (formerly titled Ironbark) — drama

The Craft: Legacy — horror

Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words — documentary

Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine — documentary

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution — documentary

Crisis (2021) — drama

Critical Thinking — drama

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan — documentary

The Croods: A New Age — animation

Crown Vic — drama

CRSHD — comedy

Cruella — comedy/drama

Cryptozoo — animation

The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw — horror

Cut Throat City — drama

Da 5 Bloods — drama

Daddy Issues (2020) — comedy

Dads — documentary

Dangerous Lies — drama

Dara of Jasenovac — drama

The Dark Divide — drama

Dark Web: Cicada 3301 — action/comedy

Dating & New York — comedy

Dave Not Coming Back — documentary

A Day in the Life of America — documentary

Days of Rage: The Rolling Stones’ Road to Altamont — documentary

Days of the Whale — drama

A Deadly Legend — horror

Dear Evan Hansen — musical

Dear Santa — documentary

Death in Texas — drama

Decade of Fire — documentary

The Deeper You Dig — horror

Deerskin — comedy

The Delicacy — documentary

Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil — documentary

Demonic (2021) — horror

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train — animation

Denise Ho — Becoming the Song — documentary

Desolation Center — documentary

Desperados — comedy

The Devil Below (formerly titled Shookum Hills) — horror

Devil’s Night: Dawn of the Nain Rouge — horror

Devil’s Pie – D’Angelo — documentary

Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy — documentary

Die in a Gunfight — action

Disappearance at Clifton Hill — drama

The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu — comedy/drama

Disclosure (2020) — documentary

Diving With Dolphins — documentary

The Djinn — horror

The Dog Doc — documentary

Dolittle — live-action/animation

Dolphin Island — drama

Dolphin Reef — documentary

Do Not Reply — horror

Don’t Breathe 2 — horror

Don’t Look Back (2020) (formerly titled Good Samaritan) — horror

The Doorman (2020) — action

Dosed — documentary

Downhill — comedy

Dream Horse — drama

Dreamland (2020) (starring Margot Robbie) — drama

Driven to Abstraction — documentary

Driveways — drama

Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America — documentary

The Dry — drama

Duty Free — documentary

Earwig — horror

Easy Does It — comedy

The East (2021) — drama

El Cuartito — comedy/drama

Elephant (2020) — documentary

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things — documentary

Embattled — drama

Emma (2020) — comedy/drama

The Emoji Story (formerly titled Picture Character) — documentary

Endangered Species (2021) — drama

End of Sentence — drama

Enemies of the State (2021) — documentary

Enforcement (formerly titled Shorta) — drama

Enhanced (2021) (also titled Mutant Outcasts) — sci-fi/action

Enola Holmes — drama

Entwined (2020) — horror

Epicentro — documentary

Escape From Mogadishu — drama

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions — horror

The Etruscan Smile (also titled Rory’s Way) — drama

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga — comedy

Evil Eye (2020) — horror

The Evil Next Door — horror

Exit Plan — drama

Extraction (2020) — action

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) — drama

F9 — action

Falling (2021) — drama

A Fall From Grace — drama

The Fallout — drama

Farewell Amor — drama

Fatal Affair (2020) — drama

Fatale — drama

The Father (2021) — drama

Fatima (2020) — drama

Fatman — comedy

Fear of Rain — horror

The Fight (2020) — documentary

Finding Kendrick Johnson — documentary

Finding You (2021) — drama

First Cow — drama

First Date (2021) — comedy

Flag Day — drama

Flashback (2021) (formerly titled The Education of Frederick Fitzell) — drama

Flipped (2020) — comedy

Force of Nature (2020) — action

The Forever Purge — horror

For They Know Not What They Do — documentary

The Forty-Year-Old Version — comedy

Four Good Days — drama

Four Kids and It — fantasy

Framing John DeLorean — documentary

Freaky — horror

Free Guy — action

French Exit — comedy/drama

Friendsgiving — comedy

From the Vine — comedy/drama

Funhouse (2021) — horror

Gaia (2021) — horror

Game of Death (2020) — horror

Ganden: A Joyful Land — documentary

The Garden Left Behind — drama

The Gasoline Thieves — drama

Gay Chorus Deep South — documentary

The Gentlemen — action

Get Duked! (formerly titled Boyz in the Wood) — comedy

Get Gone — horror

The Ghost of Peter Sellers — documentary

A Girl From Mogadishu — drama

A Girl Missing — drama

A Glitch in the Matrix — documentary

The God Committee — drama

Godzilla vs. Kong — action

The Go-Go’s — documentary

Golden Arm — comedy

Goldie — drama

Good Posture — comedy

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind — documentary

Greed — comedy/drama

The Green Knight — horror/fantasy

Greenland — sci-fi/action

Gretel & Hansel — horror

Greyhound — drama

The Grudge (2020) — horror

Guest of Honour — drama

Gunda — documentary

Half Brothers — comedy

The Half of It — comedy

Halloween Party (2020) — horror

Happiest Season — comedy

Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics — documentary

Haymaker (2021) — drama

Healing From Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation — documentary

He Dreams of Giants — documentary

Held — horror

Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful — documentary

Here After (2021) (formerly titled Faraway Eyes) — drama

Here Are the Young Men — drama

Here Today — comedy/drama

Hero Dog: The Journey Home — drama

Hero Mode — comedy

Herself — drama

The High Note — comedy/drama

His House — horror

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard — action

Holler — drama

Holly Slept Over — comedy

Honest Thief — action

Hooking Up (2020) — comedy

Hope Gap — drama

Horse Girl — sci-fi/drama

The Host (2020) — horror

Hosts — horror

The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 — comedy/horror

House of Hummingbird — drama

How It Ends (2021) — comedy

How to Build a Girl — comedy

How to Fix a Primary — documentary

Human Capital (2020) — drama

Human Nature (2020) — documentary

The Hunt — horror

Hunter Hunter — horror

Hysterical (2021) — documentary

I Am Human — documentary

I Am Somebody’s Child: The Regina Louise Story — drama

I Am Vengeance: Retaliation — action

I Carry You With Me — drama

If I Can’t Have You: The Jodi Arias Story — documentary

I Hate New York — documentary

I Hate the Man in My Basement — drama

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me — documentary

Impractical Jokers: The Movie — comedy

I’m Thinking of Ending Things — drama

I’m Your Woman — drama

Incitement — drama

Infamous (2020) — drama

The Infiltrators — docudrama

The Informer (2020) — drama

Initials SG — drama

Inna De Yard: The Soul of Jamaica — documentary

In Our Mothers’ Gardens — documentary

Instaband — documentary

In the Earth — horror

In the Footsteps of Elephant — documentary

In the Heights — musical

The Invisible Man (2020) — horror

Iron Mask (formerly titled The Mystery of the Dragon Seal) — action

Irresistible (2020) — comedy

I Still Believe — drama

It Takes a Lunatic — documentary

It Takes Three (2021) — comedy

I Used to Go Here — comedy/drama

I’ve Got Issues — comedy

I Want My MTV — documentary

I Will Make You Mine — drama

Jakob’s Wife — horror

Jay Myself — documentary

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey — musical

Joe Bell (formerly titled Good Joe Bell) — drama

John and the Hole — drama

John Henry — action

John Lewis: Good Trouble — documentary

JonBenét Ramsey: What Really Happened? — documentary

Judas and the Black Messiah (formerly titled Jesus Was My Homeboy) — drama

Judy & Punch — drama

Jungle Cruise — action

Jungleland (2020) — drama

Kajillionaire — comedy/drama

Karen (2021) — drama

Kat and the Band — comedy

Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On! — documentary

Kid Candidate — documentary

Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections — documentary

Killer Among Us — horror

Killer Therapy — horror

The Killing of Two Lovers — drama

The Kill Team (2019) — drama

Kill the Monsters — drama

The Kindness of Strangers — drama

Kindred — drama

The King of Staten Island — comedy/drama

Lakewood — drama

La Llorona — horror

Land (2021) — drama

Lansky (2021) — drama

The Last Full Measure — drama

The Last Vermeer — drama

The Lawyer — drama

Leftover Women — documentary

Les Misérables (2019) — drama

Let Him Go — drama

The Lie (2020) — drama

Life in a Day 2020 — documentary

Like a Boss — comedy

Limbo (2021) — comedy/drama

Limerence — comedy

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice — documentary

Lingua Franca — drama

Little Fish (2021) — sci-fi/drama

The Little Things (2021) — drama

The Lodge — horror

The Longest Wave — documentary

Long Live Rock…Celebrate the Chaos — documentary

Long Weekend (2021) — sci-fi/drama

Lorelei (2021) — drama

Lost Bayou — drama

Lost Girls — drama

Lost Transmissions — drama

Los Últimos Frikis — documentary

Love and Monsters — sci-fi/horror/action

The Lovebirds — comedy

Love Sarah — comedy/drama

Love Type D — comedy

Love Wedding Repeat — comedy

Low Tide — drama

Luca (2021) — animation

Lucky Grandma — action

Luz: The Flower of Evil — horror

LX 2048 — sci-fi/drama

Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over — documentary

Ma Belle, My Beauty — drama

Mai Khoi & the Dissidents — documentary

The Main Event (2020) — action

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound— documentary

Mallory (2021) — documentary

Mama Weed — comedy/drama

Mandibles — comedy

Mank — drama

The Man Who Sold His Skin — drama

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — drama

Marathon (2021) — comedy

Mark, Mary & Some Other People — comedy

The Marksman (2021) — action

Martha: A Picture Story — documentary

Martin Margiela: In His Own Words — documentary

Mass (2021) — drama

Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back — documentary

The Mauritanian — drama

Meat Me Halfway — documentary

Midnight in the Switchgrass — drama

Mighty Ira — documentary

Mighty Oak — drama

Military Wives — comedy/drama

The Mimic (2021) — comedy

Minari — drama

The Mindfulness Movement — documentary

Misbehaviour — drama

Miss Americana — documentary

Miss Juneteenth — drama

MLK/FBI — documentary

Moffie — drama

The Mole Agent — documentary

Monday (2021) — drama

Monster Hunter — sci-fi/action

Montana Story — drama

Mortal — sci-fi/action

Mortal Kombat (2021) — fantasy/action

Most Dangerous Game — action

Most Wanted (formerly titled Target Number One) — drama

Mr. Soul! — documentary

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado — documentary

Mulan (2020) — action

Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story — documentary

Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story — documentary

My Boyfriend’s Meds — comedy

My Dad’s Christmas Date — comedy/drama

My Darling Vivian — documentary

My Love (2021) — comedy/drama

My Octopus Teacher — documentary

My Salinger Year (also titled My New York Year) — drama

My Spy — comedy

Mystify: Michael Hutchence — documentary

Naked Singularity — drama

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind — documentary

The Nest (2020) — drama

Never Gonna Snow Again — drama

Never Rarely Sometimes Always — drama

Never Too Late (2020) — comedy

New Order (2021) — drama

News of the World — drama

A Nice Girl Like You — comedy

The Night (2021) — horror

The Night House — horror

Night of the Kings — drama

Nina Wu — drama

Nine Days — drama

Noah Land — drama

Nobody (2021) — action

Nocturne (2020) — horror

Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin — documentary

Nomadland — drama

No Man’s Land (2021) — drama

No Small Matter — documentary

Notturno — documentary

The Novice (2021) — drama

Old — horror

The Old Guard — action

Olympia — documentary

Olympic Dreams — comedy/drama

Once Upon a River — drama

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band — documentary

One Hour Outcall — drama

One Night in Bangkok — drama

One Night in Miami… — drama

Only — sci-fi/drama

On the Record — documentary

On the Rocks (2020) — drama

On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries — documentary

Onward — animation

Open — drama

Ordinary Love — drama

Origin of the Species — documentary

Otherhood — comedy

The Other Lamb — drama

Other Music — documentary

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles — documentary

Our Friend (formerly titled The Friend) — drama

Our Ladies — comedy/drama

Our Time Machine — documentary

Out of Blue — drama

The Outpost — drama

Out Stealing Horses — drama

The Painter and the Thief — documentary

Palm Springs — comedy

Paper Spiders — drama

The Paper Tigers — action

Parallel (2020) — sci-fi/drama

Paranormal Prison — horror

Parkland Rising — documentary

A Patient Man — drama

PAW Patrol: The Movie — animation

A Perfect Enemy — drama

The Personal History of David Copperfield — comedy/drama

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway — live-action/animation

Phobias (2021) — horror

The Photograph — drama

The Place of No Words — drama

The Planters — comedy

Playing God (2021) — comedy

Plucked — documentary

Plus One (2019) — comedy

The Pollinators — documentary

Pornstar Pandemic: The Guys — documentary

Port Authority (2021) — drama

Possessor Uncut — sci-fi/horror

Premature (2020) — drama

The Prey (2020) — action

The Price of Desire — drama

Profile (2021) — drama

Project Power — sci-fi/action

Promising Young Woman — comedy/drama

The Protégé (2021) — action

Proxima — sci-fi/drama

P.S. Burn This Letter Please — documentary

Public Enemy Number One — documentary

PVT CHAT — drama

Queenpins — comedy

The Quiet One — documentary

A Quiet Place Part II — sci-fi/horror

Quo Vadis, Aida? — drama

The Racer — drama

Radioactive — drama

Raging Fire — action

A Rainy Day in New York — comedy

Raising Buchanan — comedy

Rare Beasts — comedy

Raya and the Last Dragon — animation

Rebuilding Paradise — documentary

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project — documentary

Red Penguins — documentary

Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs — animation

A Regular Woman — drama

Relic — horror

The Rental (2020) — horror

Rent-A-Pal — horror

The Rescue List — documentary

Resistance (2020) — drama

Respect (2021) — drama

Retaliation (formerly titled Romans) — drama

Rewind — documentary

The Rhythm Section — action

The Ride (2020) — drama

Ride Like a Girl — drama

Riders of Justice — drama

Ride the Eagle — comedy/drama

The Right One — comedy

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It — documentary

River City Drumbeat — documentary

RK/RKAY — comedy

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain — documentary

Roald Dahl’s The Witches — horror/fantasy

Robert the Bruce — drama

The Rookies (2021) — action

Run (2020) — drama

Runner — documentary

Run With the Hunted — drama

Rushed — drama

Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words — documentary

Safer at Home — drama

Saint Frances — comedy/drama

Saint Maud — horror

Saloum — horror

Save Yourselves! — sci-fi/horror/comedy

Saving Paradise — drama

The Scheme (2020) — documentary

Scheme Birds — documentary

School’s Out Forever — horror

Scoob! — animation

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street — documentary

Screened Out — documentary

Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth (formerly titled Seahorse) — documentary

Seberg — drama

The Secret: Dare to Dream — drama

A Secret Love — documentary

The Secrets We Keep — drama

See Know Evil — documentary

See You Yesterday — sci-fi/drama

Selah and the Spades — drama

Separation (2021) — horror

Sergio (2020) — drama

Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days — documentary

Settlers (2021) — sci-fi/drama

The Seventh Day (2021) — horror

Shadows of Freedom — documentary

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings — action

She Dies Tomorrow — drama

She’s in Portland — drama

Shine Your Eyes — drama

Shirley — drama

Shithouse — comedy/drama

Shortcut — horror

The Short History of the Long Road — drama

Showbiz Kids — documentary

The Show’s the Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock — documentary

Siberia (2021) — drama

Silk Road (2021) — drama

A Simple Wedding — comedy

The Sinners (2021) (formerly titled The Color Rose) — horror

Six Minutes to Midnight — drama

Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story — documentary

Skin Deep: The Battle Over Morgellons — documentary

Skin Walker — horror

Skyman — sci-fi/drama

Slay the Dragon — documentary

Smiley Face Killers — horror

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins — action

Sno Babies — drama

Somebody Up There Likes Me (2020) — documentary

Some Kind of Heaven — documentary

Sometimes Always Never — comedy/drama

The Sonata — horror

Songbird — sci-fi/drama

Sonic the Hedgehog — live-action/animation

Sorry We Missed You — drama

Soul — animation

Sound of Metal — drama

Space Jam: A New Legacy — live-action/amination

Spaceship Earth — documentary

The Sparks Brothers — documentary

Spell (2020) — horror

Spelling the Dream (formerly titled Breaking the Bee) — documentary

Spiral (2021) — horror

Spirit Untamed — animation

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run — live-action/animation

Spontaneous — sci-fi/horror/comedy

Sputnik — sci-fi/horror

Standing Up, Falling Down — comedy/drama

Stardust (2020) — drama

Starting at Zero — documentary

The State of Texas vs. Melissa — documentary

Stealing School — comedy/drama

Stevenson Lost & Found — documentary

Still Here (2020) — drama

Stillwater (2021) — drama

The Story of Soaps — documentary

The Stranger (Quibi original) — drama

Stray (2021) — documentary

Stray Dolls — drama

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street — documentary

Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash — drama

The Stylist — horror

Subjects of Desire — documentary

Sublime — documentary

Sugar Daddy (2021) — drama

The Suicide Squad — action

Summerland — drama

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) — documentary

The Sunlit Night — comedy/drama

Supernova (2021) — drama

The Surrogate — drama

Survive — drama

Swallow — drama

Swan Song (2021) — comedy/drama

Sweet Thing (2021) — drama

The Swerve — drama

The Swing of Things — comedy

Sylvie’s Love — drama

Synchronic — sci-fi/horror

Take Back — action

Tango Shalom — comedy/drama

Tape (2020) — drama

Tar — horror

A Taste of Sky — documentary

Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman  — horror

Ten Minutes to Midnight  — horror

Terrorizers  — drama

Tesla  — drama

Then Came You (2020)  — comedy

They Call Me Dr. Miami — documentary

The Thing About Harry  — comedy

Think Like a Dog — comedy/drama

This Is Personal — documentary

This Is Stand-Up — documentary

Those Who Wish Me Dead — drama

A Thousand Cuts (2020) — documentary

A Thread of Deceit: The Hart Family Tragedy — documentary

Through the Night (2020) — documentary

Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison — comedy

Time (2020) — documentary

The Times of Bill Cunningham — documentary

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made  — comedy

The Tobacconist — drama

Together (2021) — comedy/drama

Together Together — comedy/drama

To Kid or Not to Kid — documentary

To Kill the Beast — drama

Tom and Jerry — live-action/animation

Tommaso — drama

Tom of Your Life — sci-fi/comedy

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free — documentary

Too Late (2021) — horror/comedy

Totally Under Control — documentary

Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare — drama

The Trial of the Chicago 7 — drama

The Trip to Greece — comedy

Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts — documentary

Trolls World Tour — animation

Troop Zero — comedy

The True Adventures of Wolfboy — drama

The Truffle Hunters — documentary

Trust (2021) — drama

The Truth — drama

The Turning (2020) — horror

The Twentieth Century — comedy

Two of Us (2021) — drama

Tyson — documentary

Unbelievable (premiere episode) — drama

Uncaged (also titled Prey) – horror

Uncorked — drama

Under the Volcano (2021) — documentary

Underwater — sci-fi/horror

Undine (2021) — drama

Unhinged (2020) — action

The Unholy (2021) — horror

The United States vs. Billie Holiday — drama

Un Rescate de Huevitos — animation

The Unthinkable — drama

Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music — documentary

Uprooting Addiction — documentary

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own — documentary

Val — documentary

Valley Girl (2020) — musical

The Vanished (2020) (formerly titled Hour of Lead)— drama

Vanquish (2021) — action

The Vast of Night — sci-fi/drama

The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee — comedy

The Vigil (2021) — horror

The Village in the Woods — horror

Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations — documentary

The Virtuoso (2021) — drama

Vivarium — sci-fi/drama

Voyagers — sci-fi/drama

Waiting for the Barbarians — drama

Wander Darkly — drama

The War With Grandpa — comedy

Watson — documentary

The Way Back (2020) — drama

We Are Freestyle Love Supreme — documentary

We Are Little Zombies — comedy/drama

We Are Many — documentary

We Are the Radical Monarchs — documentary

Weathering With You — animation

We Broke Up — comedy

Welcome to Chechnya — documentary

We Need to Do Something — horror

Werewolves Within — horror/comedy

What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali — documentary

What We Found — drama

What Will Become of Us — documentary

When the Streetlights Go On — drama

The Whistlers — drama

A White, White Day — drama

Widow of Silence — drama

Wig — documentary

Wild Mountain Thyme — drama

The Windermere Children — drama

Wine Crush (Vas-y Coupe!) (formerly titled Vas-y Coupe!) — documentary

Witch Hunt (2021) — horror

Wojnarowicz — documentary

The Wolf House — animation

The Wolf of Snow Hollow — horror

A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem — documentary

Women (2021) — horror

Wonder Woman 1984 — action

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation — documentary

Words on Bathroom Walls — drama

Work It — comedy/drama

The World to Come — drama

Wrath of Man — action

The Wretched — horror

A Writer’s Odyssey — fantasy/action

The Wrong Missy — comedy

XY Chelsea — documentary

Yellow Rose — drama

You Cannot Kill David Arquette — documentary

You Don’t Nomi — documentary

You Go to My Head — drama

You Should Have Left — horror

Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn — documentary

Zack Snyder’s Justice League — action

Zappa — documentary

Zola — comedy/drama

Zombi Child — horror

Review: ‘Dating & New York,’ starring Francesca Reale, Jaboukie Young-White, Catherine Cohen and Brian Muller

September 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jaboukie Young-White and Francesca Reale in “Dating & New York” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Dating & New York”

Directed by Jonah Feingold

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the romantic comedy “Dating & New York” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: After meeting through a dating app, a man and a woman in their mid-20s decide to become “friends with benefits” until one of them falls in love with the other person and wants more of a romantic commitment. 

Culture Audience: “Dating & New York” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in overly talkative romantic comedies that are extremely formulaic and not very funny.

Jaboukie Young-White and Francesca Reale in “Dating & New York” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Dating & New York” is proof that the only thing worse than a dull and unoriginal romantic comedy is a dull and unoriginal romantic comedy that thinks it’s exciting and creative. This annoying movie reeks of smugness, when it’s really just a worse version of the mediocre 2011 romantic comedies “No Strings Attached” (starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman) and “Friends With Benefits” (starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis). Each of the three movies is about two good-looking young people who have a sexual relationship while trying not to fall in love with each other. However, “Dating & New York” (written and directed by Jonah Feingold) takes it to irritating levels by trying to be too cute for its own good.

How cutesy does “Dating & New York” want to be? In the very beginning of the film there’s a voiceover narrator (a role played by Jerry Ferrara) and animation (as if this a Disney fairytale), with the narrator saying this monologue: “Once upon a time, in a magical kingdom known as New York City, in a city that doesn’t sleep, but sleeps around a lot, a land of dollar pizza and crowded subways, there lived two millennials cursed with the paradox of choice.”

Side note: A pizza slice that only costs a dollar in New York City? What year was this screenplay written? Anyone who’s spent time recently in New York City can spot the phoniness of the “dollar pizza” line because it’s been several years since a slice of pizza in New York City cost only one dollar.

Viewers soon find out that the story’s two central characters, who are both in their mid-20s, aren’t very cursed at all and are actually quite spoiled and privileged. These two don’t have much “paradox of choice” struggles going on, unless you consider it a “paradox of choice” when they have to decide what kind of attitude they want to have in any given hour: self-pitying whiner or self-absorbed hipster. You get the feeling that Feingold wrote the characters this way because he knows a lot of people who think of themselves as adorable and funny, but they actually lack self-awareness in how insufferable they are with their entitled and out-of-touch attitudes about what life’s real problems are.

Milo Marks (played by Jaboukie Young-White), who was born and raised in New York City, lives rent-free in the spacious and modern Upper West Side apartment of his mother and her boyfriend, who aren’t home very much because they travel a lot for their jobs. Milo doesn’t seem to have a job. However, the movie shows that he’s an aspiring stand-up comedian with no talent who can only get occasional gigs performing in small places with hardly anyone there to see him. Here’s a sample line from his stand-up comedy act when he talks about romantic relationships: “Rollover feelings are like rollover minutes.”

Wendy Brinkley (played by Francesa Reale) who becomes his “best friend with benefits” isn’t shown working at all. She’s got loads of snappy one-liners and comments that are supposed to show that she has a “firecracker” personality, but it’s all so superficial. The movie doesn’t even bother mentioning what Wendy does for a living or what she wants to do with her life. That’s how hollow her character is, although Reale is one of the better actors in this cast.

Milo and Wendy have met on a dating app called Meet Cute. Viewers first see Milo and Wendy together on their first date at an East Village bar called Lilo’s. Here’s a sample of their conversation: Wendy asks, “What is your baggage?” Milo answers in a sarcastic manner, “I have no baggage. Basically, I tell people I’m just like you, but perfect.”

Milo then says in all seriousness why he has problems keeping a steady relationship: “I create this fantasy version of a person … And a lot of the time, I don’t like the real person as much as the fantasy person.” Milo essentially tells Wendy on this first date that he usually ends up ending relationships when he becomes disappointed or bored with the person who stops meeting his fantasy expectations.

Most people with some modicum of self-respect wouldn’t want to get involved with someone who’s obviously very emotionally immature. However, Wendy is attracted enough to Milo that she sleeps with him on their first date. Milo is the type of person who says, “Only in New York can you make out with someone in front of a bunch of garbage and it’s still romantic.”

After Milo and Wendy spend the night together, they don’t keep in touch with each other for several weeks. Milo is a little surprised, but his feelings aren’t that hurt since he and Wendy don’t know each other well enough to feel like it’s a total snub. The voiceover narrator explains that Milo and Wendy both moved on and casually dated other people. Viewers find out later that the narrator is a doorman named Cole Navatorre, who works in Milo’s apartment building and ends up giving Milo some advice on Milo’s love life.

And because this is a romantic comedy that’s a cesspool of clichés, it should come as no surprise that Milo and Wendy both have best friends who end up dating each other. Milo’s best friend is an ambitious financial analyst at J.P. Morgan named Hank Kadner (played by Brian Muller), while Wendy’s best friend is a fast-talking neurotic named Jessie Katz (played by Catherine Cohen), who has been Wendy’s closest confidante since they went to school together at Weslyan University. Whatever Jessie does for a living remains a mystery. This movie seems to have a problem showing women with careers.

Hank and Jessie have their “meet cute” moment when Hank and Milo are at a trendy bar, and Jessie comes over to talk to them. Milo hasn’t seen Wendy in several weeks at this point. Milo spots a model-esque woman named Olivia (played by real-life model Taylor Hill), who’s sitting alone at the bar counter. Even though he hasn’t met Olivia yet, Milo says to Hank and Jessie out loud (with a lot of wishful thinking) that she’s his future wife. Jessie encourages Milo to start talking to this mystery beauty.

Milo gets the courage to approach Olivia. They introduce themselves to each other. The conversation starts off friendly and a little flirtatious, until Olivia mentions that she has a boyfriend. As soon as Milo hears that Olivia is already romantically involved with someone else, he walks away from her while she’s talking. How rude. It’s an example of how Milo thinks he’s a better catch than he really is.

After Milo abruptly cut off his conversation with Olivia, she comes over to where Milo is to scold him for being so disrespectful. It doesn’t phase him too much. What does catch him off guard is finding out that Jessie is Wendy’s best friend. And what do you know, here comes Wendy to walk into Milo’s life again. Wendy is also still single and available, the sparks are still there between Milo and Wendy, and so they pick up where they left off.

Milo soon finds out that Wendy wants a “best friends with benefits” relationship. She even makes a “Best Friends With Benefits” contract that Milo reluctantly signs. Wendy constantly lectures Milo that they’re better off not falling in love with each other because it would ruin their relationship, while Milo wants to leave open the possibility that they can fall in love. In other words, the movie shows very early on which person in this relationship is going to “catch feelings” and fall in love with the other person first.

Hank and Jessie, who have more traditional views of romantic relationships, both think the “Best Friends With Benefits” contract is a bad idea. Hank and Jessie’s romance has a typical trajectory, while Milo and Wendy’s relationship has stops, starts and some arguments in between. Hank and Jessie argue too, but not as often as Milo and Wendy have conflicts. Jessie and Hank are also the type of couple who will make up easily and end their arguments with passionate kissing. Wendy doesn’t believe in showing public displays of affection in a “best friends with benefits” relationship.

“Dating & New York” puts Milo and Hank in scenarios that try to make them look “progressive hipsters,” but it all just looks like contrived crap. For example, there’s a scene where Milo and Hank talk about their love lives while they’re at a spa getting facials and wearing pink bathrobes and having towels wrapped over their heads. Is that supposed to make them look like feminists? It’s all so phony, because not once is Milo and Hank seen in the movie actually having a conversation with the women in their love lives about the women’s hopes, dreams and life goals, and how they can support each other in those goals.

And since this a romantic comedy with no original ideas, it uses the old cliché of ex-lovers coming into the picture so the new couple at the center of the story will be “tested” by jealousy issues. Milo’s ex-girlfriend is someone whom he calls Katie 7F (played by Sohina Sidhu), because she grew up in Apartment 7F of Milo’s building. Katie has unresolved feelings for Milo.

Wendy’s ex-boyfriend is a weirdo named Bradley (played by Arturo Castro), whom Milo and Wendy see at a plant shop. Bradley is there with his current girlfriend Erica (played by Hallie Samuels), who’s got a ditsy personality. The four of them have an awkward conversation.

And the boring scenarios drag on and on until the movie comes to the most derivative conclusion that anyone can expect. None of the actors in the cast does anything special. Reale has the best comedic timing out of all the cast members, while Young-White is sometimes stiff in his delivery. It doesn’t help that Milo is an obnoxious character who thinks he’s got a better personality than he really does. The supporting characters in the movie are very two-dimensional and trite.

“Dating & New York” has so little originality and is filled with so much annoying dialogue, you can fall alseep or fast forward through the middle of the movie, start watching the last 20 minutes, and still know how everything is going to end. If you can’t get enough of these types of predictable romantic comedies with a concept of “friends with benefits who try to pretend they won’t fall in love with each other,” then you’re better off watching a classic such as “When Harry Met Sally.”

IFC Films released “Dating & New York” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on September 10, 2021.

Review: ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ starring Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan, Danny Pino, Julianne Moore and Amy Adams

September 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ben Platt and Julianne Moore in “Dear Evan Hansen” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Dear Evan Hansen”

Directed by Stephen Chbosky

Culture Representation: Taking place in Bethesda, Maryland, the musical film “Dear Evan Hansen” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Due to a misunderstanding over a typed letter, a lonely teenager in his last year of high school pretends that he was the secret best friend of a fellow student who committed suicide. 

Culture Audience: “Dear Evan Hansen” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Tony-winning musical on which this movie is based, but the movie fails to capture the spirit of the stage version.

Danny Pino, Amy Adams and Kaitlyn Dever in “Dear Evan Hansen” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

On paper, the movie musical “Dear Evan Hansen” seems like it would be guaranteed to have the same appeal as the Tony-winning musical on which it’s based. However, the movie’s talented cast can’t redeem this misguided mush that clumsily handles serious issues such as mental illness and suicide. Sometimes, it isn’t enough to have members of a Broadway musical’s Tony-winning team reprise the same roles for the movie.

Several of the principal team members who won Tony Awards for the “Dear Evan Hansen” stage musical came on board for the movie version of “Dear Evan Hansen.” Ben Platt returns in his starring role as Evan Hansen. Steven Levenson wrote the musical’s book and the movie’s screenplay. Mark Platt (Ben Platt’s father) is a producer. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote the musical score and songs. The movie version has the same songs from the stage musical, except for the original songs “A Little Closer” and “The Anonymous Ones.”

Stephen Chbosky, who earned rave reviews for his 2012 movie adaptation of his novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” misses the mark in directing “Dear Evan Hansen,” another story about a teenage boy who’s struggling with mental illness. (Chobsky was not involved in the “Dear Evan Hansen” stage musical, whose original Broadway production was directed by Michael Greif.) In “Dear Evan Hansen,” Evan Hansen is a socially awkward loner, who is in therapy for anxiety and depression. In the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie, these issues are treated like “disease of the week” plot points. The movie also callously fails, until the last few scenes, to have much regard for the inner life of the person who committed suicide in the story, because the movie is all about Evan Hansen’s angst over keeping secrets about lies that he created.

Unfortunately, the movie missed some opportunities to have more exploration and sensitivity about what led to the suicide that becomes the catalyst for the entire story. Instead, the emphasis is on trying to make viewers feel sorry for a teenager who lies to people about being the suicide victim’s best friend. The movie doesn’t make him an anti-hero but someone who should be admired for coping with his mental health issues while under the stress of concocting elaborate lies.

In the beginning of “Dear Evan Hansen” (which takes place in Bethesda, Maryland), Evan is shown doing a therapy exercise required by his psychiatrist Dr. Sherman: writing a diary-like letter to himself. It’s an assignment that Evan has to do on a regular basis in order to ease some of his anxiety and hopefully boost his confidence. Dr. Sherman is never seen or heard in the movie, which is one of the reasons why parts of this movie look very phony and off-kilter. The self-addressed letter writing becomes the reason why Evan becomes entangled in a misunderstanding and a complicated deception that end up getting out of control.

Evan, who is in his last year of the fictional Westview High School, is the only child of divorcée Heidi Hansen (played by Julianne Moore), a nurse who works the night shift at a local hospital. Evan’s father abandoned Evan and Heidi when Evan was very young and has not been in their lives since then. More recently, Evan has been recovering from a broken left arm, which is in a cast, because he fell out of a tree.

The early scenes of Evan at high school embody a lot stereotypes of teenagers who are social outcasts. He’s ignored in the hallways and in classrooms. No one wants to have lunch with him in the cafeteria. Evan is afraid to talk to people, and when he does, he often stutters and stammers. And people usually don’t talk to him either, because he keeps mostly to himself.

There’s no indication of what type of academic student Evan is because the movie mostly cares about the web of lies that Evan ends up spinning. At home, Evan’s mother Heidi constantly reminds him to write the self-affirming letters, because she doesn’t want him to “go back to how it was last year,” which implies that Evan had some kind of breakdown back then.

As is typical for a story about a male nerd in high school, he has a crush on a girl whom he thinks is out of his league, and he’s too shy to even talk to her. Evan’s crush is Zoe Murphy (played by Kaitlyn Dever), who is two years younger than he is. Zoe, who is artistic and introverted, plays guitar in the school’s marching band.

Evan’s only “friend” at school is someone who often acts embarrassed to be around Evan. His name is Jared Kalvani (played by Nik Dodani), who makes a lot of cruel remarks to Evan, but Jared think he’s being witty and funny when he says these awful things to Evan. For example, Jared tells Evan that they are not “real friends,” because Jared feels obligated to hang out with Evan only because their mothers are friends. Jared also calls Evan a “total disaster” when it comes to dating. Jared tells Evan that he won’t sign Evan’s arm cast because Jared doesn’t want people to think that he and Evan are friends.

It’s the beginning of the school year, and Jared (who is openly gay) brags to Evan that he spent his summer vacation at a camp where he gained muscle weight and hooked up with a Brazilian hunk who’s a model. Jared is a motormouth who seems like the type to exaggerate things about himself in order to boost his own ego. Viewers will get the impression that Jared hangs out with Evan so Jared can feel socially superior to Evan.

One day in the school hallway, Evan has a run-in with a school bully named Connor Murphy (played by Colton Ryan), who is in Evan’s graduating class. Connor also happens to be Zoe’s older brother. Connor sees Evan looking at Connor while Evan gives a small nervous laugh. Connor’s temper explodes and he yells at Evan for laughing at him.

Zoe is one of the people who see this outburst, so shortly afterward, she approaches Evan and says she’s sorry for the way that Connor was so rude to Evan. Zoe introduces herself, but bashful Evan is tongue-tied and almost having a panic attack. Evan stammers something that Zoe can’t understand and then he runs away from her.

One day, Evan is in the school library, where he has printed out another letter to himself. The letter reads: “Dear Evan Hansen: Turns out this wasn’t an amazing day after all. This isn’t going to be an amazing year because why would it be? Oh, I know, because there’s Zoe, who I don’t even know and who doesn’t know me, but maybe if I talk to her, maybe things will be better. Or maybe nothing will be different at all. I wish everything was different. Would anyone notice if I just disappeared tomorrow? Sincerely, your best and dearest friend. Me.”

Just as he is about to leave the library, Evan runs into Connor again. To Evan’s surprise, Connor is even-tempered and asks to signs Evan’s arm cast. After Connor signs it, he smirks and says, “Now we can pretend to be friends.” However, Connor sees the letter that Evan wrote to himself, Connor reads it, and he has another angry tantrum. Connor is upset about Evan’s letter, which Connor calls a “creepy letter” about Zoe. Connor is so incensed that he takes the letter from Evan.

The next day, Evan finds out about something tragic that happened the night before: Connor committed suicide. Word quickly spreads throughout the school. Evan is called into the school principal’s office because two people want to talk to Evan: Connor’s mother Cynthia Murphy (played by Amy Adams) and Connor’s stepfather Larry Mora (played by Danny Pino), who helped raise Zoe since she was a 1-year-old and since Connor was 3.

Cynthia and Larry found Evan’s letter among Connor’s possessions and assumed that Connor wrote the letter. Larry and Cynthia are surprised by the letter because they didn’t think Connor had any friends. At first, Evan tries to tell these grieving parents that he didn’t know Connor and he wrote the letter to himself. But when they see Connor’s signature on Evan’s arm cast, Cynthia is convinced that Connor and Evan must’ve had a secret friendship.

Cynthia in particular seems desperate to want answers about Connor’s suicide. She’s trying to find anyone who was close to Connor to help her understand things that she didn’t know about Connor. It’s at this point in the story that you have to wonder why Cynthia would think that Connor would write a letter saying that he doesn’t know his own sister Zoe, but the movie wants viewers to think that Cynthia is so overcome with grief that she isn’t thinking logically.

The more Evan tries to explain that he was never Connor’s friend, the more upset Cynthia gets. She thinks that Connor had secret email addresses and fake social media accounts to hide his “friendship” with Evan. Cynthia also asks a lot of leading questions that make it easy for Evan to give answers that she wants to hear. And so, with Evan’s anxiety starting to kick in as he faces these parents who want answers, he makes up a huge lie in this meeting, by saying that he and Connor were secret best friends. (It’s not spoiler information, because it’s in the movie’s trailers.)

The rest of the movie shows how Evan’s lies get more elaborate and how he desperately tries to cover up these lies. First, he tells Jared his secret and convinces computer whiz Jared to create fake email messages to and from Connor, so that Evan can forward these messages to the Murphy family. It makes Jared a willing accomplice to this deceit, but the movie badly handles the consequences that Jared would realistically have to face if the secret is revealed.

Cynthia and Larry want to know more about Connor from Evan. And so, it isn’t long before Evan is invited over to the Murphy home for dinner. During this dinner, Evan finds out that Zoe despised Connor, whom she calls a “bad person.” She has nothing good to say about her dead brother, and it naturally upsets Larry and Cynthia every time they hear Zoe insult Connor.

Later, in a private conversation between Zoe and Evan, she expresses some skepticism that Evan was ever really Connor’s friend. Although she and Connor weren’t close, Zoe finds it hard to believe that Evan and Connor were friends because she never saw them hanging out together. The only time that she saw Evan and Connor interacting with each other was a few days before the suicide, when Connor yelled at Evan in the school hallway. Despite these major doubts, Evan is able to convince Zoe that he and Connor just had a minor argument in that school hallway and that they were really friends.

“Dear Evan Hansen” ignores the larger questions of what kind of emotional support Connor was or was not getting at home. It’s revealed that he was shipped off to rehab on multiple occasions for his substance abuse problems. And it’s obvious that Cynthia doesn’t want to talk about Connor’s worst flaws, so her denial about his problems might have made things worse.

However, viewers are only left to guess what went on inside Connor’s home and what was inside his head to make him commit suicide. To put it bluntly: Evan’s mental health problems are given all the importance in the movie, while the suicide victim’s problems are mostly ignored. This discrepancy defeats the movie’s supposed intention to bring more understanding and compassion for people who have suicidal thoughts.

The movie also goes off on a brief and unnecessary tangent that Jared gleefully participates in Evan’s deception because he likes the idea of making people think that Connor and Evan were secret gay lovers. It’s an idea that falls by the wayside when Evan and Zoe become closer and eventually start dating each other. This is not spoiler information either, because it’s shown in the movie’s trailers.

Zoe opens up to Evan about why she and Connor never got along with each other. Connor had a long and troubled history of being a violent bully. For example, when Connor was 7 years old, he threw a printer at a teacher. He was also cruel to Zoe on many occasions. And mental illness apparently runs in the family. Zoe and Connor’s biological father died when she was a 1-year-old. His cause of death will not surprise viewers when it’s eventually revealed in the story.

At school, a concerned student named Alana Beck (played by Amandla Stenberg), who didn’t know Connor, decides to form a support group called the Connor Project to help create student awareness for mental health. She asks for Evan’s help in launching this project, but he avoids going to the student meetings about the project. Alana finds it difficult to get anyone to attend these meetings because Connor was not well-liked, so she’s surprised and disappointed that Connor’s “best friend” doesn’t want to attend these meetings either.

And when Evan tells a lie that Connor was the one who rescued Evan after he fell out of the tree, Alana gets the idea to launch a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to rebuild the defunct orchard where the tree is located. She wants to name it the Connor Murphy Memorial Orchard. Alana tries to enlist Evan’s help for this campaign too. And so, now Evan knows that this fundraising campaign was created as a direct result of his deceit. Can you say financial fraud?

Why is Alana going to all this trouble for Connor, someone she didn’t even know? It turns out that Alana has a personal reason for wanting to launch the Connor Project: Just like Evan, she’s on medication for anxiety and depression. Alana thinks that Connor also had a mental illness that could’ve been better treated if he felt that he had a support system at school. And therefore, Alana has a lot of empathy for anyone who is going through these struggles.

One of reasons why the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie will turn off some viewers is that the movie tries to make Evan look sympathetic because he’s a social outcast, but he actually comes across as very selfish. Would he have continued lying to the Murphy family if he didn’t think it was a convenient way to get closer to Zoe? Probably not. Would he have kept up the charade of being sympathetic to Connor’s emotional problems if this fake sympathy hadn’t raised his social status at school? Probably not.

Evan also doesn’t seem to care to understand who Connor was as a human being until something happens in the story that forces Evan to look like he’s curious about what Connor’s interests were when Connor was alive. Throughout most of the story, Alana is more inquisitive about Connor than Evan is. Of course, in real life, this discrepancy would have set off red flags very early on—not just with Connor’s family but also with teachers and students who would know best what the friendship cliques are at the school. It’s a reality that’s mostly ignored in this movie, which makes the students and teachers look extremely gullible to Evan’s lies, which aren’t even that clever.

And there’s an icky subtext that Evan is enjoying the attention and approval he’s getting for coming forward as Connor’s “best friend,” even though Evan is supposed to feel guilty about his lies. He does feel guilty, but mainly when he comes close to getting caught and other people get backlash that Evan didn’t expect. This backlash is rushed into the story as a way to force an inevitable plot development.

It’s possible that this movie could’ve been more convincing if it had been set in a time before the Internet and social media existed. However, no one ever asks Evan for more proof that he knew Connor as a best friend, such as things Connor would’ve told a best friend about himself. Everyone just accepts the superficial and vague email as “evidence” of the friendship.

Evan claims that his friendship with Evan was mostly online, by email. However, except for saying that Evan rescued him after the tree fall, Evan never provides the dates and times of when he and Evan supposedly hung out in person together. Viewers are supposed to believe that Evan thinks he can get away with this scam with his mother, who knows pretty much everything about him and is skeptical that he had a secret best friend. But somehow, Evan convinces her too. It’s a very flimsy part of the story.

The cast members capably handle the acting and song performances. However, the way the songs are placed in the movie don’t come off as well on screen as they would on stage. There’s a very cringeworthy fantasy sequence where Evan and Connor frolic, dance and sing in a carefree manner together, as if they were best friends. Ben Platt vacillates between portraying Evan as a pitiful wimp and a troubled opportunist. Dever does quite well in her scenes as Zoe, especially when she depict’s Zoe’s conflicting love/hate emotions about Connor.

The songs from the stage musical that are in the movie are “Waving Through a Window,” “Good for You,” “Anybody Have a Map?,” “For Forever,” “Sincerely, Me,” “Requiem,” “If I Could Tell Her,” “Only Us.” “Words Fail,” “So Big, So Small” and the musical’s most well-known anthem “You Will Be Found.” The original songs “A Little Closer” (performed by Ryan) and “The Anonymous Ones” (performed by Stenberg, who co-wrote the music and lyrics) are serviceable but aren’t that outstanding. In addition, the soundtrack has Sam Smith doing a version of “You Will Be Found” and SZA performing “The Anonymous Ones.”

Mostly, the overall cloying tone of the movie is off-putting because it tries so hard to get viewers to root for Evan while he’s doing a lot of despicable lying about someone who committed suicide. Just because Evan has anxiety and depression shouldn’t be used as an excuse, which is what this movie does in a way that’s insulting to people with these mental health issues who would never stoop to the pathetic levels of what Evan does in this movie.

And it’s made even worse when it’s wrapped up in bomabstic musical numbers that are intended to make people shed tears for Evan more than anyone else in the story—even though he’s not the one who lost a loved to suicide and he’s causing more pain with his lies. This gross spectacle of a movie amplifies the deep-rooted flaws of the entire story, which might have been more acceptable to theater audiences who are more accustomed to seeing song-and-dance numbers about suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues. “Dear Evan Hansen” has a lot of deluded worship of Evan, who’s got a bland abyss of a personality and who isn’t even creative with his lies.

Universal Pictures will release “Dear Evan Hansen” in U.S. cinemas on September 24, 2021.

Review: ‘Saloum,’ starring Yann Gael, Roger Sallah, Mentor Ba, Bruno Henry, Evelyne Ily Juhen and Renaud Farah

September 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Renaud Farah, Roger Sallah, Mentor Ba, and Yann Gael in “Saloum” (Photo courtesy of Lacme Studios)


Directed by Jean Luc Herbulot 

French and Wolof with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2003 in Senegal and briefly in Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, the horror film “Saloum” features a predominantly African cast (with a few Latinos and white people) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Three Sengalese mercenaries for hire are tasked with transporting a Mexican drug dealer to Dakar, but they end up in a camp in the Saloum Delta, where they encounter mysterious and sinister wind monsters.

Culture Audience: “Saloum” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in suspenseful horror movies that explore issues of fallouts from civil wars and exploitation of children.

Yann Gael and Evelyne Ily Juhen in “Saloum” (Photo courtesy of Lacme Studios)

The horror movie “Saloum” artfully poses this question: “What’s scarier: monsters on the outside or personal demons on the inside?” During this intensely suspenseful story, three African mercenaries for hire have to confront this question, as a trip to Senegal to transport a Mexican drug dealer turns into a living nightmare. “Saloum” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Jean Luc Herbulot, “Saloum” takes place in 2003, and begins with an Atlantic Ocean scenery in the African country of Guinea-Bissau. A woman says in a voiceover: “They say revenge is like a river. And our actions are the dugouts guided by the current, whose bottom is reached when we drown.” It’s revealed at the end of the movie who said these words, since these words are repeated in the movie’s last scene.

But most of the movie follows three Sengalese mercenaries who call themselves Bangui’s Hyenas. Chaka (played by Yann Gael), who is in his mid-30s, is the group leader and is the most fearless and ruthless of this trio. Rafa (played by Roger Sallah), who is in his late 30s or early 40s, is physically the strongest. Minuit (played by Mentor Ba), who is in his 60s, is the most spiritually minded and has a visually striking appearance with long white dreadlocks for his hairstyle.

The first time that viewers see this renegade trio, they are rampaging through Guinea-Bissau, where there’s chaos on the streets. According to a caption on screen: “The military declares a coup d’état. Their pledge to restore order looks more like bloodshed. First in their crosshairs is the international drug trade. Bad news for the pushers, unless you have a military plan.”

The mercenaries who call themselves Bangui’s Hyenas find several dead or dying people on the streets. Minuit (which means “midnight” in French) has a mysterious powder that he blows in people’s faces to render them unconscious. The three mercenaries burst into a building, where they emerge with several gold bricks and have captured a human as bounty.

The bounty is a Mexican drug dealer named Felix (played by Renaud Farah), who doesn’t talk much in this story because he spends about half of his screen time passed out from the powder blown in his face by Minuit. Rafa says a drug cartel is paying “a million” to bring Felix back alive. Felix insists that they take him to Dakara, the capital of Senegal.

But on the private plane ride in a small aircraft, something goes terribly wrong: The plane is shot at, and the bullets have penetrated the gas tank. The plane runs out of fuel while over Gambia. They are forced to make an emergency landing in the Saloum region of Senegal. It’s mostly a desert area.

Rafa is suspicious about who was shooting at the plane, and he wonders if they might have been set up to make this emergency landing. Chaka isn’t as skeptical because he doesn’t think that the drug cartel would risk this type of double-cross when the cartel wants Felix back alive. As a precaution, Chaka and Rafa bury their gold bricks near certain trees in the desert, while Minuit blows the powder in Felix face so he’ll lose consciousness and won’t see where the gold is being buried.

The down side to Felix being unconscious for a certain period of time is that he has to be carried through the desert. The four men, with Felix awake, eventually find a boat to use, and they end up in Baobub Camp, a isolated holiday gathering area in the coastal region of Sine-Saloum. The camp is so remote that the nearest village is 10 kilometers (about six miles) away.

These four interlopers try to pretend to be innocent tourists who are just passing through the area, in order to fit in with the other camp dwellers. They use alias to hide their identities. Chaka says his name is Cheikh, Rafa calls himself Rufin, Minuit is now known as Maudou, and Felix uses the fake name Felipe. But it isn’t long before these criminals expose how dangerous they can be.

The camp has a friendly host named Omar (played by Bruno Henry), who tells these new visitors: “Saloum is a natural sanctuary. It’s our job to preserve it.” The four guests are invited to a group dinner, where they get to know the other dwellers of the camp.

A woman in her 20s named Awa (played by Evelyne Ily Juhen) immediately stands out because she’s the only deaf and mute person in the group. She can communicate by sign language, which only a few people in the camp know. Awa is no pushover. When Rafa makes rude suggestive remarks to her, she scowls and gives him the middle finger.

One of the people at the camp notices that Chaka has gold dust on his hands. He fabricates a story about how he works in a gold mine. Chaka also lies and says that “Felipe” is a contact for South American investors who are interested in the gold. As time goes on, Minuit suspects that Chaka is being dishonest about other things, because he notices that Chaka has been acting as if his nerves are on edge ever since they arrived at the camp.

In a private conversation between Minuit and Rafa, Minuit mentions his suspicions that Chaka might be hiding something from them. It’s implied during the story that Minuit is can communicate with spirits or has a psychic side to him. At the very least, he’s the most intuitive member of this mercenary group. And he’s right: Chaka is hiding a big secret, which is eventually revealed in the movie.

Chaka tells Omar and the rest of the camp dwellers that the four men in Chaka’s group will eventually go to the Senegal city of Kedougou in three days. However, those plans go into awry when monsters suddenly descend on the camp. The best way to describe these creatures is that they look like swirling dust devils with black mop-like fur, like a Puli dog. And since “Saloum” is a horror movie, not everyone makes it out alive.

The terrified camp dwellers find out that these monsters can be killed with guns. But there’s something else that’s life-threatening: If the humans’ ears aren’t covered, they hear a distinct and dangerous sound from the monsters that causes humans to eventually get pustule infections on their bodies and they cough up blood. Headphones are used to block out this noise. Awa doesn’t need the headphones because she’s deaf.

“Saloum” isn’t the type of horror movie that doesn’t explain why these monsters suddenly arrive to plague the camp. There’s a clear cause-and-effect that conjured up the arrival of these sinister spirits. As the humans fight to stay alive, people who previously didn’t care for each other have to form alliances to help each other, while other people are left to fend for themselves.

All of the cast members are perfectly fine in their roles. However, the characters with the most intriguing backstories are Chaka and Awa, who are both trying in their own ways to heal from emotional pain. Awa knows the pain of being isolated because of her disability, while Chaka knows the pain of being isolated because of his dark secret. It’s eventually revealed that Chaka, who seems arrogant and fearless on the outside, is a mess of insecurities on the inside.

The monsters signify what can happen when evil intentions are unresolved and allowed to fester. “Saloum” is also a disturbing story about the fallout of war. This movie is not for people who are overly sensitive to seeing life’s atrocities, but it’s a riveting depiction of how sins of the past can haunt people in the present.

Review: ‘It Takes Three’ (2021), starring Jared Gilman, Aurora Perrineau, Mikey Madison and David Gridley

September 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jared Gilman and Mikey Madison in “It Takes Three” (Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)

“It Takes Three” (2021)

Directed by Scott Coffey

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the romantic comedy “It Takes Three” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: At a high school, a nerd and a conceited jock schoolmate both have crushes on the same girl at school, but the nerd keeps his crush a secret and is recruited by the jock to fabricate a romantic online persona that the jock passes off as his own to woo the girl he wants to date.

Culture Audience: “It Takes Three” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching formulaic and not-very-funny teen romantic comedies.

Aurora Perrineau and David Gridley in “It Takes Three” (Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)

Predictable, boring and plagued by amateurish acting, “It Takes Three” is a forgettable mashup of a John Hughes movie and “Cyrano de Bergerac.” There’s an overabundance of teen romantic comedies that have the storyline of a nerdy underdog who has a secret crush on someone who’s seemingly unattainable. The challenge for filmmakers who turn this over-used trope into a movie is to do something uniquely creative with the plot and the characters. Unfortunately, “It Takes Three” comes up short on every single level.

Directed by Scott Coffey and written by Logan Burdick and Blair Mastbaum, “It Takes Three” doesn’t have a single thing about it that hasn’t been done in other teen romantic comedies. Not even the title is original, since there’s at least one other feature film titled “It Takes Three.” In director Coffey’s “It Takes Three,” the movie is so banal and lacking in originality, viewers could watch the first 20 minutes and easily predict what’s going to happen for the rest of the movie.

In the production notes for “It Takes Three,” Coffey makes this statement: “Directing ‘It Takes Three’ grew out of my personal history with teen movies. I was an actor in the John Hughes films ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ and ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ and also had leading roles in ‘Shag’ and ‘Satisfaction.’ These movies were a huge part of my own coming of age as an actor and I wanted ‘It Takes Three’ to harken back to these transformative 1980s teen movies. I wanted to homage these classics and add to their lineage, but at the same time, I wanted to make something fresh and new.”

Actually, there’s nothing fresh and new about “It Takes Three.” The only things that the filmmakers did to try to make this movie look more “modern” than a Hughes movie were to have a lot more explicit discussions of sex and to include today’s technology as a big part of the storyline. But again, other teen romantic comedies have already done those exact same things. The best Hughes movies are considered classics because of the snappy dialogue and because the roles were played by talented cast members. By contrast, “It Takes Three” has witless dialogue and some cast members who need to take more acting lessons because they’re just not believable in their roles.

In “It Takes Three,” protagonist Cy Berger (played by Jared Gilman) is a shy nerd whose only friend is Kat Walker (played by Mikey Madison), who’s a stereotypical wisecracking “sidekick” character in movies of this type. Kat and Cy are students at the same high school in an unnamed U.S. city, where Cy is a social outcast. And yet somehow (it’s never explained in the movie), Cy has gotten a date with a pretty and popular student named Cora (played by Katie Baker), who is as vain about her physical appearance as Cy is insecure about how he looks.

“It Takes Three” opens with a nervous Cy driving to Cora’s house to pick her up for their first date together. Cy predictably drives the type of old, clunky and dirty car that a shallow person like Cora wouldn’t even want to be near. But since this movie is so poorly written, it never tells what led up to this hard-to-believe scenario that Cora wants to go on a date with Cy. Is it a pity date? Did Cy help Cora with her homework and is this her way of thanking him? Did she lose a bet? Don’t expect any answers.

Cy awkwardly compliments Cora by telling her that she looks electrifying. She thinks it’s an odd description of her, so she asks Cy if he’s rolling on molly. And if so, Cora tells Cy that she wants some of this drug. Cy tells her that he’s sober and that he’s on a natural high, just by being with her. How did these two obviously mismatched people end up on a date? Right from the start, this movie looks too fake for its own good.

The whole purpose of this phony-looking and very contrived date is so the filmmakers could set up a humiliating experience for Cy. This humiliation serves as the catalyst for the rest of the story. Kat is helping Cy on this date, which takes place at a beach, by arranging to be part of a small marching band (how very un-romantic) perform on the beach during the date. Cy also want the date to be an opportunity to ask Cora to the school’s upcoming prom.

When Cy asks Cora his big prom date question, she casually tells him no because she wants to have sex on prom night, and Cy just isn’t who she has in mind as a sex partner for her. Cora tells Cy: “I just can’t imagine you going down on me. It’s an important part of my prom fantasy.” Unfortunately for Cy, Cora gave him this rejection right when he was having an erection.

And it’s get worse for Cy: A fellow classmate, who saw Cy and Cora on the beach together, was close enough to use a phone to zoom in and film Cy with this erection during Cora’s rejection. The video was posted online. Of course, the video went viral. And so, the next time that Cy is at school, he is mercilessly teased by many students about it.

What do Cy’s parents have to say about this bullying? They don’t do much about it except to tell Cy that they love him just the way he is. Cy’s parents are two lesbians named Sara (played by Lori Alan) and Jessica (played by Jessica Lorez), who appear briefly in the movie in an early scene where they seem more concerned about talking about their sex life in front of Cy than getting help for their obviously depressed child.

Cy is so insecure about his looks that he wants to have plastic surgery, but his mothers discourage him from this idea. That doesn’t stop Cy from visiting a plastic surgeon’s office by himself for a consultation. In a voiceover, Cy has this to say about why he wants to change his physical appearance: “It doesn’t matter how stupid, lazy and uncultured you are, if you have a pretty face, people just love you.”

One of these “pretty people” whom Cy has resentment toward is the school bully who’s been the cruelest to Cy. His name is Chris Newton (played by David Gridley), a self-centered star athlete who has an obsession with filming himself doing karate and other martial arts, and putting the videos on his social media. Chris is described as one of the most popular classmates at the school. But you can tell this movie was written by adults who are clueless about what today’s young people think is “cool,” because in real life, Chris would be considered a stupid dork in an athlete’s body.

It doesn’t help that Gridley’s acting is among the worst in this subpar movie that has Chris as a one-dimensional dimwit. Gridley’s acting style is way too hammy in this role. Guys who are considered “cool” and “popular” in high school don’t act this ridiculous. Cy is also written in very broad strokes (every conceivable nerd stereotype) and portrayed by an actor whose talent isn’t on the same level as the talent of some of the other cast members.

Cy is still recovering from the embarrassment of his viral video when he meets a new student named Roxy (played by Aurora Perrineau), who establishes a friendly rapport with him. Roxy is a free-thinking feminist who is sort of an outsider herself, since she’s a new student and isn’t as superficial as the popular students in school. It doesn’t take long for Cy to forget all about Cora and instead fixate on Roxy as his ideal dream girl.

But what do you know, Chris ends up being attracted to Roxy too. Cy thinks he won’t have a chance of competing against Chris for Roxy’s affections. And through a series of contrived events, Cy ends up making a deal with Chris to get Chris to stop bullying him: Cy agrees to create an online persona to pretend to be Chris and woo Roxy.

It works too much for Cy’s comfort, because Roxy believes that the romantic and articulate person she’s talking to online is Chris. She has no idea that the person she’s really talking to online is Cy, even though she’s getting to know Cy as a friend. Roxy thinks that maybe Chris isn’t a dumb, conceited jock after all. And she agrees to date him. Cue the scenes where Cy comes up with the words that Chris says on these dates.

The more that Roxy starts to fall for Chris, the more miserable that Cy gets, until he begins to wonder what would happen if he told Roxy the truth. “It Takes Three” has cliché after cliché of teen comedies, including a showdown at a prom and a race against time to confess true feelings to a love interest. The flmmakers didn’t even try to do anything different with these stereotypes.

Perrineau’s depiction of Roxy is adequate, but Roxy looks and acts more like Cy’s chaperone than a potential girlfriend because Roxy is so much more emotionally mature than Cy. One of the main problems with “It Takes Three” is that some of the cast members, such as Perrineau and Gridley, do not look believable as high schoolers, because these actors look and act much older than high school students. It’s distracting and an example of bad judgment in this movie’s filmmaking.

And where is Cy’s best friend Kat during all of Cy’s angst? She’s sidelined for most of the movie, but she makes it clear that she disapproves of Cy’s deception in the online persona scam that Cy has with Chris. Kat also thinks that Cy can do better than all the “unattainable” girls he constantly falls for and who end up breaking his heart.

Walker’s portrayal of Kat is one of the few highlights of the film, because she displays comedic timing that’s much better than her castmates. It’s too bad that the Kat character is so underdeveloped. Her biggest scenes are in the beginning and end of the movie.

Other romantic comedies have already done this spin on the “Cyrano de Bergerac” play—most notably 1987’s “Roxanne,” starring Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah. You won’t find anything surprising in “It Takes Three.” Usually, the “nerdy underdog” in the story is supposed to be witty and charming, but the Cy character is dull and whiny. For a better-made teen romantic comedy that uses the “Cyrano de Bergerac” template, watch director Alice Wu’s award-winning 2020 movie “The Half of It.”

Gunpowder & Sky released “It Takes Three” on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021.

True Crime Entertainment: What’s New This Week

The following content is generally available worldwide, except where otherwise noted. All TV shows listed are for networks and streaming services based in the United States. All movies listed are those released in U.S. cinemas. This schedule is for content and events premiering this week and does not include content that has already been made available.

Monday, September 20 – Sunday, September 26

TV/Streaming Services

All times listed are Eastern Time/Pacific Time, unless otherwise noted.

Netflix’s four-episode docuseries “Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milliganpremieres on Wednesday, September 22, at 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT.

Monday, September 20

“Reasonable Doubt”
“A $25,000 Performance” (Episode 410) **Season Finale**
Monday, September 20, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“My True Crime Story”
Briana Rios (Episode 108) **Season Finale**
Monday, September 20, 10 p.m., VH1

“I Was a Teenage Felon”
“Hollwood Queenpins” (Episode 201) **Season Premiere**
Monday, September 20, 10 p.m., Vice

Tuesday, September 21

“Signs of a Psychopath”
“Do Her Mortal” (Episode 303)
Tuesday, September 21, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Wendesday, September 22

“Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan” (Four-episode limited docuseries)
Wednesday, September 22, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, Netflix

“Crime Stories: India Detectives”
(Epsodes 101-104) **Series Premiere**
Wednesday, September 22, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, Netflix

“Secrets, Lies and Private Eyes”
“The Secret and the Missing” (Episodes 104)
Wednesday, September 22, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, Discovery+

“Before the Storm”  
Wednesday, September 22, 8 p.m., Oxygen

“Court Cam”
Episode 414
Wednesday, September 22, 9:30 p.m., A&E

“In Pursuit With John Walsh”
“Surfside Homicide” (Episode 306)
Wednesday, September 22, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Thursday, September 23

“Buried in the Backyward, Buried in the Woods”
“Deadly Premonition”
Thursday, September 23, 9 p.m., Oxygen

“Kids Behind Bars: Life or Parole”
“Justin” (Episode 208)
Thursday, September 23, 9 p.m., A&E

“Accused: Guilty or Innocent?”
“Malcolm” (Episode 206)
Thursday, September 23, 10 p.m., A&E

Friday, September 24

“Curse of the Chippendales”
Episodes 101-103 **Series Premiere**
Friday, September 24, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, Discovery+

“Vendetta: Truth, Lies and the Mafia” (Season 1) **Series Premiere**
Friday, September 24, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, Netflix

Friday, September 17, 9 p.m., ABC

Friday, September 24, 9 p.m., NBC

“Cold Case Files”
“The Devil in Disguise” (Episode 206) **Season Finale**
Friday, September 24, 9 p.m., A&E

“American Justice”
“Killer Catfish” (Episode 1506) **Season Finale**
Friday, September 24, 10 p.m., A&E

Saturday, September 25

“48 Hours”
Saturday, September 25, 10 p.m., CBS

Sunday, September 26

“Stephane Thomas”
Sunday, September 26, 6 p.m., Oxygen

“Escaping Captivity: The Kara Robinson” (TV Special)
Sunday, September 26, 7 p.m., Oxygen

“Vengeance: Killer Families”
“A Will to Kill” (Episode 503) 
Sunday, September 26, 9 p.m., HLN

“Evil Lives Here”
“He Was Born Evil” (Episode 1010) 
Sunday, September 26, 9 p.m., Investgation Discovery

“Sex & Murder”
“Chilling Cover-Up” (Episode 205)
Sunday, September 26, 10 p.m., HLN

“On the Case With Paula Zahn”
“Justice for Angie” (Episode 2307) 
Sunday, September 26, 10 p.m., Investgation Discovery

Movie Theaters and Home Video

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some movie theaters in the U.S. are closed until further notice. Some independent movie theaters that are physically closed are showing new movies online, as part of a “virtual cinema” program. 

No new true crime movies released in theaters or on home video this week.


No new true crime podcast series premiering this week.


Events listed here are not considered endorsements by this website. All ticket buyers with questions or concerns about the event should contact the event promoter or ticket seller directly.

All start times listed are local time, unless otherwise noted.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many in-person events in the U.S. have been cancelled or postponed if the event was expecting at least 50 people in the year 2021. Many events that would normally be in-person are now being held as virtual/online events.

No new true crime events this week.

2021 Primetime Emmy Awards: ‘The Crown,’ ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ are the top winners

September 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pennie Downey, Marion Bailey, Josh O’Connor, Charles Dance, Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, Erin Doherty, Michael Thomas and Pennie Downie in “The Crown” (Photo by Des Willie/Netflix)

Anya Taylor-Joy in “The Queen’s Gambit” (Photo by Phil Bray/Netflix)

With 11 prizes each, Netflix’s drama series “The Crown” and the Netflix limited drama series “The Queen’s Gambit” were the top winners at the 73rd annual Emmy Awards, which were presented at The Event Deck at L.A. Live in Los Angeles on September 19, 2021, in a ceremony hosted by Cedric the Entertainer. CBS had the U.S. telecast, with Paramount+ making live streaming of the ceremony available. Going into the ceremony, “The Crown” and the Disney+’s sci-fi drama series “The Mandalorian” were the leading contenders, with 24 nominations each.

The Emmy Awards won by “The Crown” were for Outstanding Drama Series; Best Actress in a Drama Series (for Olivia Colman); Best Actor in a Drama Series (for Josh O’Connor); Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (for Gillian Anderson); Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (for Tobias Menzies); Best Writing for a Drama Series; Best Directing for a Drama Series; Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (for Claire Foy); Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series; Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (one hour); and Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series.

“The Queen’s Gambit” was the top winner in categories for Limited Series or Anthology Series or Movie, including Outstanding Limited Series or Anthology Series or Movie. “The Queen’s Gambit” also ruled in limited series, anthology series or movie categories for directing; writing; cinematography; single-camera picture editing; sound mixing; production design; casting; period and/or character makeup (non-prosthetic); and music composition (original dramatic score).

Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” was also a big winner, with seven prizes: Outstanding Comedy Series; Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (for Jason Sudeikis); Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (for Brett Goldstein); and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (for Hannah Waddingham). The other three Emmys won by the show were for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series; Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama series (half-hour) and Animation; and Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series.

“Saturday Night Live” won eight Emmys this year, including Outstanding Variety Series. “The Mandalorian” received seven Emmys, all in technical categories. “Mare of Easttown” picked up four Emmys, including three in the field of Limited Series or Anthology Series or Movie: Outstanding Actress (for Kate Winslet); Best Supporting Actor (for Evan Peters); and Best Supporting Actress (for Julianne Nicholson). “Mare of Easttown” also won an Emmy for Outstanding Production Design for Narrative Contemporary Program. As previously announced, Debbie Allen received the noncompetitive Governors Award for career achievement.

Presenters and surprise guests included Uzo Aduba, Paulina Alexis, Anthony Anderson, Annaleigh Ashford, Awkwafina, Angela Bassett, Adrien Brody, Aidy Bryant, Sophia Bush, Stephen Colbert, Jennifer Coolidge, Misty Copeland, Kaley Cuoco, Michael Douglas, Ava DuVernay, Lane Factor, Beanie Feldstein, Allyson Felix, America Ferrera, Sterlin Harjo, Taraji P. Henson, Gayle King, LL Cool J, Devery Jacobs, Ken Jeong, Mindy Kaling, Daniel Dae Kim, Vanessa Lachey, Dan Levy, Eugene Levy, Jessica Long, Annie Murphy, Catherine O’Hara, Dolly Parton, Sarah Paulson, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Amy Poehler, Ellen Pompeo, Billy Porter, Michaela Jaé (Mj) Rodriguez, Seth Rogen, Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahidi, Patrick Stewart, Wilmer Valderrama, Kerry Washington, Rita Wilson, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Bowen Yang and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The independent accounting firm of Ernst & Young LLP tallied the votes for the Primetime Emmy Awards, which are voted on by branches of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences, with some special jury awards. The executive producers of 2021 Primetime Emmy Awards telecast were Reginald Hudlin and Done and Dusted.

The 2021 Creative Arts Emmy Awards were handed out in a three-part ceremony on September 11 and September 12 that was webcast on Highlights of the ceremony were televised on September 18 on FXX. A complete list of winners for the 2021 Creative Arts Emmy Awards can be found here.

Here is the list of nominees and winners for the 2021 Primetime Emmy Awards:


Outstanding Drama Series

“The Boys” (Amazon Prime Video)
“Bridgerton” (Netflix)
“The Crown” (Netflix)*
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
“Lovecraft Country” (HBO)
“The Mandalorian” (Disney+)
“Pose” (FX)
“This Is Us” (NBC)

Outstanding Comedy Series

“Black-ish” (ABC)
“Cobra Kai” (Netflix)
“Emily in Paris” (Netflix)
“Hacks” (HBO Max)
“The Flight Attendant” (HBO Max)
“The Kominsky Method” (Netflix)
“Pen15” (Hulu)
“Ted Lasso” (Apple TV +)*

Outstanding Limited Series or Anthology Series or Movie
“I May Destroy You” (HBO)
“Mare of Easttown” (HBO)
“The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix)*
“The Underground Railroad” (Amazon Prime Video)
“WandaVision” (Disney+)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”)
Jonathan Majors (“Lovecraft Country”)
Josh O’Connor (“The Crown”)*
Regé-Jean Page (“Bridgerton”)
Billy Porter (“Pose”)
Matthew Rhys (“Perry Mason”)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Uzo Aduba (“In Treatment”)
Olivia Colman (“The Crown”)*
Emma Corrin (“The Crown”)
Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Mj Rodriguez (“Pose”)
Jurnee Smollett (“Lovecraft Country”)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”)
Michael Douglas (“The Kominsky Method”)
William H. Macy (“Shameless”)
Jason Sudeikis (“Ted Lasso”)*
Kenan Thompson (“Kenan”)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Aidy Bryant (“Shrill”)
Kaley Cuoco (“The Flight Attendant”)
Allison Janney (“Mom”)
Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”)
Jean Smart (“Hacks”)*

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Anthology Series or Movie

Paul Bettany (“WandaVision”)
Hugh Grant (“The Undoing”)
Ewan McGregor (“Halston”)*
Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”)
Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Anthology Series or Movie

Michaela Coel (“I May Destroy You”)
Cynthia Erivo (“Genius: Aretha”)
Elizabeth Olsen (“WandaVision”)
Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”)
Kate Winslet (“Mare of Easttown”)*

Outstanding Variety Talk Series

“The Daily Show With Trevor Noah”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
“Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”*
“The Late Show With Stephen Colbert”

Outstanding Competition Program

“The Amazing Race”
“Nailed It!”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”*
“Top Chef”
“The Voice”

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Giancarlo Esposito (“The Mandalorian”)
O-T Fagbenle (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
John Lithgow (“Perry Mason”)
Tobias Menzies (“The Crown”)*
Max Minghella (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Chris Sullivan (“This Is Us”)
Bradley Whitford (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Michael K. Williams (“Lovecraft Country”)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Gillian Anderson (“The Crown”)*
Helena Bonham Carter (“The Crown”)
Madeline Brewer (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Ann Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Aunjanue Ellis (“Lovecraft Country”)
Emerald Fennell (“The Crown”)
Yvonne Strahovski (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Samira Wiley (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series*

Carl Clemons-Hopkins (“Hacks”)
Brett Goldstein (“Ted Lasso”)*
Brendan Hunt (“Ted Lasso”)
Nick Mohammed (“Ted Lasso”)
Paul Reiser (“The Kominsky Method”)
Jeremy Swift (“Ted Lasso”)
Kenan Thompson (“Saturday Night Live”)
Bowen Yang (“Saturday Night Live”)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Aidy Bryant (“Saturday Night Live”)
Hannah Einbinder (“Hacks”)
Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”)
Rosie Perez (“The Flight Attendant”)
Cecily Strong (“Saturday Night Live”)
Juno Temple (“Ted Lasso”)
Hannah Waddingham (“Ted Lasso”)*

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Anthology Series or Movie

Thomas Brodie Sangster (“The Queen’s Gambit”)
Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton”)
Paapa Essiedu (“I May Destroy You”)
Jonathan Groff (“Hamilton”)
Evan Peters (“Mare of Easttown”)*
Anthony Ramos (“Hamilton”)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Anthology Series or Movie

Renée Elise Goldsberry (“Hamilton”)
Kathryn Hahn (“WandaVision”)
Moses Ingram (“The Queen’s Gambit”)
Julianne Nicholson (“Mare of Easttown”)*
Jean Smart (“Mare of Easttown”)
Phillipa Soo (“Hamilton”)

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series

“A Black Lady Sketch Show”
“Saturday Night Live”*

Outstanding Variety Special (Live)

Celebrating America – An Inauguration Night Special (Multiple Platforms)
The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards (CBS)
The Oscars (ABC)
The Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show Starring The Weeknd (CBS)
Stephen Colbert’s Election Night 2020: Democracy’s Last Stand Building Back America Great Again Better 2020 (Showtime)*

Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded)

Bo Burnham: Inside (Netflix)
David Byrne’s American Utopia (HBO)
8:46 – Dave Chappelle (Netflix)
Friends: The Reunion (HBO Max)
Hamilton (Disney+)*
A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote (HBO Max)

Review: ‘Saving Paradise,’ starring William Moseley and Johanna Braddy

September 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Johanna Braddy and William Moseley in “Saving Paradise” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Saving Paradise”

Directed by Jay Silverman

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Pennsylvania community of Paradise and in New York City, the dramatic film “Saving Paradise” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After his father dies, a corporate raider goes back to his hometown of Paradise, Pennsylvania, to try to save the pencil-making company that has been in his family for generations and is on the verge of going out of business. 

Culture Audience: “Saving Paradise” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in “going back to your hometown roots” movies that are mawkish and predictable in every possible way.

Mary Pat Gleason and Shashawnee Hall (both pictured in front) in “Saving Paradise” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Saving Paradise” has all the makings of a sappy Hallmark Channel movie, except that there’s some cursing in this extremely hokey, unoriginal and formulaic film. Sure, the names of the characters might not be collectively in other movies, but “Saving Paradise” follows the exact same template of any corny movie about someone who goes back to a hometown to confront personal demons and try to be a hero to the townspeople who were left behind. Directed by Jay Silverman and written by Van Billet, “Saving Paradise” has such little flair and no creativity, viewers who’ve seen enough of these types of treacly movies can practically do a countdown to all the moments that you know are going to happen.

There’s the protagonist Michael Peterson (played by William Moseley), who moved to New York City to start a new life and to escape from painful memories of things that happened in his hometown of Paradise, Pennsylvania. There’s the former high school classmate named Charlene “Charlie” Clarke (played by Johanna Braddy), who sort of had a flirtation with Michael when he lived in Paradise, but they haven’t seen or talked to each other since they were in high school. Michael and Charlie are currently both single and in their mid-30s. And that means Charlie is obviously going to be depicted as “the one who got away.”

And then there’s the “big problem” that’s supposed to bring the protagonist and the love interest together. In this case, the problem is that Michael’s father Don Peterson (played by Lawrence Pressman), who was in his 70s, has passed away and left the family-owned company Peterson Pencil on the brink of going out of business. And his widow Barbara Peterson (played by Mimi Kennedy) could lose her house, since it was used as collateral in a loan that the company has to pay back in a short period of time.

Michael is a rising star at Wannamaker Capital Group, a corporate raider firm in New York City, and he hasn’t gone back to visit Paradise in several years. He goes back to Paradise for Don’s funeral and reluctantly agrees to try to save this pencil-making company, which is headquartered in Paradise and employs about 60 people. And guess who’s the chief financial officer (CFO) of Peterson Pencil? Charlie, of course.

The beginning of the movie shows Don still alive and being an outgoing and friendly boss to his employees. He’s the type of president/CEO who knows everyone by name, as he walks through the Peterson Pencil factory and in the offices. Don is popular with his employees, but he’s hiding a big secret from almost all of them: Don has made too many bad business decisions, and the company is only a few months away from a possible permanent closure. Don has been generous to a fault, by draining the company’s funds to pay for employee perks that the company can’t afford, such as offering full college tuition for the employees’ children.

Peterson Pencil, which has just one factory, is far from being a corporation that can afford these company benefits. Most major companies don’t offer college tuition money for employees’ children, so it makes no sense for a small, struggling pencil company to do that. Peterson Pencil is now $10 million in debt, and the bank wants the money back in 90 days. And what do you know, the deadline is close to Christmas, which is one of the worst times to lay off employees.

What kind of incompetent CFO would let this mess happen? “Saving Paradise” excuses Charlie from blame. It’s explained in the movie that before Don died, Charlie warned him that his spending decisions would put the company out of business. Charlie even came up with a plan to restructure and refinance the company to get Peterson Pencil out of debt. However, Don refused to agree to the plan because it would mean some of the employees would have to be laid off.

It all just makes Don look like a stubborn fool, because the alternative would be that all—not some—employees would be lose their jobs if the company goes out of business. All the stress apparently got to Don because he had a heart attack and died. His widow Barbara had always hoped that Michael would take over the family business when the time was right. It looks like Barbara is going to get her wish, even though it’s not under ideal circumstances. Michael is put in the uncomfortable position of having to tell her that she could lose the house, because Don kept that information a secret from his wife.

“Saving Paradise” leans heavily into the cliché that anyone who has deliberately spent several years away from their family must be running away from a big, dark secret. Sure enough, Michael does have a big, dark secret: He’s haunted by the death of his beloved older brother Daniel Joseph “DJ” Peterson (played by Brandon Ruiter in flashback scenes), who died when DJ was 18 and Michael was 16. The circumstances of DJ’s death are eventually revealed in the movie through various flashbacks, which feature Aidan Merwarth as teenage Michael, and Elodie Grace Orkin as teenage Charlie.

Because a stereotypical movie like “Saving Paradise” has to drag out the “will they or won’t they get together” romance aspect of the film, Michael and Charlie predictably clash with each other on how to get Peterson Pencil out of its financial crisis. Michael also finds out that many of the longtime employees, who knew him when he was a child, feel a certain amount of resentment toward Michael for not coming back to visit Paradise after he became a hotshot corporate raider in New York City.

Michael ends up taking a leave of absence from his corporate job in order to save his family business. His ruthless boss Cameron Wannamaker (played by James Eckhouse), who’s the managing director of Wannamaker Capital Group, is very unhappy with this decision because Michael is being considered for a promotion, and he’s Cameron’s first choice. The other main contender for the promotion is Edward Worthington (played by Shaughn Buchholz), an eager-to-please and nervous employee whom Cameron does not respect.

As soon as Michael shows up and tells the Peterson Pencil employees that he’s the interim president/CEO of the company, many of them immediately think that he’s just there to do what corporate raiders do: Buy a struggling company at a low price, fire most of the workers to replace them with cheaper labor (usually in other countries), and then turn the company around to sell it at a big profit. It would be an understatement to say that many of the employees don’t trust Michael.

The Peterson Pencil employees who get the most screen time as supporting characters are:

  • Mary Williams (played by Mary Pat Gleason), the factory’s no-nonsense manager who’s one the company’s longest-serving employees.
  • George O’Malley (played by Shashawnee Hall), one of Mary’s trusted subordinates who works in maintenance and shipping.
  • Leona Hines (played by Pam Trotter), an office manager whose adult son was promised a job at Peterson Pencil when he gets out of the military.
  • Walter Wilson (played by George Steeves), a mailroom employee who loves to recite trivia knowledge about pencils, and he seems to be somewhere on the autism spectrum.
  • Julie Barnes (played by Valeria Maldonado), an administrative assistant who was briefly Michael’s girlfriend in junior high school.

Julie is now a single mother who’s been divorced three times, and she’s very interested in getting back together with Michael. Of course she is, because a movie such that piles on over-used tropes as much as “Saving Paradise” does has to include a love triangle. It’s the most over-used trope in movies with a “will they or won’t they get together” romance storyline.

“Saving Paradise” should get a little credit for not making Charlie someone who was waiting around for Michael to come back to Paradise. After high school, Charlie and Michael went to different universities and lost touch with each other. In a scene where Charlie and Michael are having lunch together, she tells him that she too moved to a big city (London) for a corporate finance job (at a bank).

Charlie had a live-in boyfriend in London, and they got engaged, but the relationship didn’t work out. Around the time of this breakup, Charlie decided that a corporate job wasn’t for her, so she moved back to Paradise, where Michael’s father Don offered her the CFO position at Peterson Pencil. Not much is revealed about Michael’s love life since he left Paradise, but it’s implied that he’s been too much of a workaholic to settle down with anyone.

“Saving Paradise” has an awkward mix of cast members who are obviously a lot more talented and experienced than others. There’s nothing wrong with having cast members with various levels of acting experience. But when these disparate acting skills show on screen and become embarrassing distractions, that’s a problem.

The movie also has a somewhat offensive depiction of dementia. Peterson Pencil employee Walter hangs out a lot with his grandfather (played by Paul Dooley), nicknamed Gramps, who has early stages of dementia. Instead of “Saving Paradise” making Gramps look like a well-rounded human being, the main purpose that Gramps serves in this movie is to have a confused Gramps think that Michael is Michael’s dead brother DJ. It happens multiple times in the story. Gramps has to be gently reminded that DJ is dead, but it predictably upsets Michael that Gramps keeps thinking that Michael is his deceased brother.

“Saving Paradise” was partially inspired by Musgrave Pencil Company in Shelbyville, Tennessee. It’s one of the few remaining pencil factories in the United States, and it gets a “thank you” mention in the end credits of “Saving Paradise.” The movie might have been inspired by this real-life factory, but the story in “Saving Paradise” is very “only in a movie” contrived nonsense.

As overly sentimental as this movie is with the concept that Michael is going to swoop in and be the hero, Braddy depicts just enough feistiness and initiative to not make her Charlie character into a typical damsel in distress. However, it’s still not enough to avoid the avalanche of hack filmmaking in almost every single aspect of “Saving Paradise,” including the very irritating score music. Braddy’s acting is the most naturalistic among the several “Saving Paradise” actors who are too hammy in their delivery.

Moseley has a few moments of showing some emotional range outside of Michael’s constant pouting and brooding, but his Michael character is written as a fairly generic leading man. Moseley, who is real British in real life, sometimes lets his British accent come through in this movie. They’re subtle slip-ups, but still noticeable.

“Saving Paradise” gives absolutely no suspense to viewers in what will happen in this story. And because the loan payback deadline happens during the Christmas holiday season, that means more mushiness is poured all over the “race against time” climax of the film. There are predictable movies of this type that can be enjoyable to watch if the acting and characters are highly appealing. But “Saving Paradise” just takes the lazy way out by rehashing and watering down what’s been done in other movies that have already done the same things in a much better way.

Vertical Entertainment released “Saving Paradise” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021.

2021 Toronto International Film Festival: winners announced

September 18, 2021


TIFF logo

Pictured in front row: Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Lewis McAskie in “Belfast” (Photo by Rob Youngson/Focus Features)


The following is a press release from the Toronto International Film Festival:

The Toronto International Film Festival® has announced its award recipients for the 46th edition of the Festival, which concluded tonight with screenings of Zhang Yimou’s One Second at the Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales Theatre and Roy Thomson Hall.

“2021 brought an exceptional selection of films that excited Festival audiences around the world,” said Joana Vicente and Cameron Bailey, TIFF Co-Heads. “Our lineup showcased beloved auteurs alongside fresh voices in filmmaking, including numerous women powerhouses. TIFF welcomed guest press, industry, international stars, and directors back to the city and into cinemas. The sweeping range in cinematic storytelling from around the world is a testament to the uniqueness of the films that are being made. We’re so grateful and proud of this year’s Festival.”

Thanks to the hybrid nature of the Festival, TIFF’s Industry platform welcomed close to 4,000 industry and press professionals from around the world, both digitally and in-person. TIFF remains a site of industry activity and a key marketplace for film title sales, hosting 105 market screenings and facilitating the sales of “France,” “Silent Night,” “A Banquet,” and “Huda’s Salon,” as well as Industry Selects title “The Pink Cloud.” TIFF’s Industry Conference presented 37 digital sessions for industry and press delegates from filmmakers to advocates and funders. The Dialogues stream featured conversations with creators E. Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin, Sterlin Harjo, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and Rebeca Huntt; Visionaries welcomed Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Sahraa Karimi, Greig Fraser, Nancy Utley, and Steve Gilula; Perspectives explored narrative sovereignty with Indigenous industry leaders and hosted a discussion on dismantling toxic industry culture; and Connections highlighted conversations on funding diverse films with ARRAY and talent to watch with Telefilm. TIFF also welcomed 20 new Filmmaker Lab participants, and eight new Rising Stars, who participated in intimate development labs with programme governors and special guest speakers.

TIFF’s Satellite Screenings wrapped Monday, September 13 in the evening. TIFF’s Film Circuit partners Bell and Cineplex worked with TIFF to bring screenings to audiences across Canada, in seven cities and six provinces (Collingwood, ON; Markham, ON; Montreal, QC; Moose Jaw, SK; Prince Rupert, BC; Saint John, NB; and Summerside, PE).

Honouring the film industry’s outstanding contributors and their achievements, and serving as TIFF’s largest annual fundraiser, the TIFF Tribute Awards was broadcast this evening across Canada on CTV, and the CTV app and streamed internationally to the rest of the world by Variety for the second straight year. The 2021 event raised funds for TIFF’s diversity, equity, and inclusion fund, Every Story, and championed a safe, community-focused, and inspiring return to cinemas. During the one-hour broadcast, two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain at the Festival with “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and “The Forgiven,” who will receive the TIFF Tribute Actor Award supported by the Tory Family; and Academy Award–nominated Benedict Cumberbatch who was also at TIFF with “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” and “The Power of the Dog,” who will receive the TIFF Tribute Actor Award; Academy Award–nominated French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, who will receive the TIFF Ebert Director Award and brought the epic and breathtaking “Dune” to TIFF on the big screen; award-winning documentary filmmaker, writer, singer, and activist Alanis Obomsawin, who will be honoured with the Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media supported by Participant Media, also celebrated with a retrospective and premiere of her new powerful short film “Honour to Senator Murray Sinclair”; cinematographer Ari Wegner, whose stunning work was featured in “The Power of the Dog,” who will receive the TIFF Variety Artisan Award; “Cree/Métis Night Raiders” filmmaker Danis Goulet who will receive the TIFF Emerging Talent Award, presented by L’Oréal Paris and supported by MGM; and six-time Grammy Award-winning, music legend Dionne Warwick whose documentary “Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over” had a World Premiere at the Festival, will be honoured with the Special Tribute Award.

Produced by Bell Media Studios, with etalk’s Tyrone Edwards and Chloe Wilde returning as hosts, the third annual awards show opened with an introduction from Sigourney Weaver and special tributes were presented by Shamier Anderson, Kirsten Dunst, Rebecca Ferguson, Emma Ferreira, Gladys Knight, Phillip Lewitski, L’Oréal Paris brand ambassador Eva Longoria, David Oyelowo, Michael Showalter, and Kiefer Sutherland. Starting on Sunday, September 19, the TIFF Tribute Awards will be available to view on Crave.

New this year, the highly anticipated winners of the TIFF People’s Choice Award and Platform Jury Prize were announced live during the awards broadcast, just moments ago. Academy Award–nominated actor Riz Ahmed, head of the jury for the 2021 Platform Prize, announced the prize winner for that competition, and the 2021 People’s Choice Award winner was announced by TIFF Co-Heads Cameron Bailey and Joana Vicente.


Arawinda Kirana and Asmara Abigail in “Yuni” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

Named after Jia Zhang-ke’s trailblazing second feature, Platform is the Toronto International Film Festival’s competitive programme championing bold directorial visions. Now in its sixth year, Platform is curated by TIFF Artistic Director and Co-Head Cameron Bailey. The Platform Prize Jury members for 2021 are Riz Ahmed (Jury President), Clio Barnard, Anthony Chen, Kazik Radwanski, and Valerie Complex.

The Platform jury provided this statement: “The jury was moved by a film that brings a fresh, intimate perspective to a coming-of-age story, marked by a subtle structure, delicate framing, and lush cinematography. For drawing us into a unique inner world too rarely seen on screen, the 2021 Platform Prize goes to Yuni, directed by Kamila Andini.”

An honourable mention from the Platform Prize Jury goes to Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), dir. Jenna Cato Bass.


Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Ciarán Hinds in “Belfast” (Photo by Rob Youngson/Focus Features)

For the 44th year, the People’s Choice Awards distinguish the audience’s top title at the Festival as voted by the viewing public. Audiences watching films at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Roy Thomson Hall, the Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Scotiabank Theatre, the Ontario Place Cinesphere IMAX Theatre, the Visa Skyline Drive-In, the RBC Lakeside Drive-In, the West Island Open Air Cinema, and at home via digital screenings on the digital TIFF Bell Lightbox platform voted online. All films in TIFF’s Official Selection that screened both in-person and on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox were eligible.

The TIFF 2021 People’s Choice Award winner is: “Belfast,” dir. Kenneth Branagh. The first runner-up is “Scarborough,” dirs. Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson. The second runner-up is “The Power of the Dog,” dir. Jane Campion.

A scene from “The Rescue” (Photo courtesy of National Geographic Films)

The TIFF 2021 People’s Choice Documentary Award winner is “The Rescue,” dirs. E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. The first runner-up is Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, dirs. Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner. The second runner-up is Flee, dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen.

Agathe Rousselle in “Titane” (Photo by Carole Bethuel/Neon)

The TIFF 2021 People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award winner is “Titane,” dir. Julia Ducournau. The first runner-up is “You Are Not My Mother,” dir. Kate Dolan. The second runner-up is “DASHCAM,” dir. Rob Savage.


Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Anna Claire Beitel, Essence Fox and Liam Diaz in “Scarborough” (Photo courtesy of Telefilm Canada and the Talent Fund)

Presented by the Shawn Mendes Foundation, the 2021 Changemaker Award is awarded to a Festival film that tackles issues of social change, and comes with a $10,000 cash prize. The winning film was selected by TIFF’s Next Wave Committee, a group of young film lovers who recognize cinema’s power to transform the world. The Shawn Mendes Foundation will also be making an annual contribution in support of TIFF Next Wave, helping TIFF deliver key initiatives to elevate young voices. The jurors for the Changemaker Award are members of TIFF’s Next Wave Committee: Norah Daudi, Sia Mehta, Saharla Ugas, Julia Yoo, Lina Zhang, Charles Liu, Naiya Forrester, Honora Murphy, Dev Desai, Elli Tripp, Michelle Kofia, and David Rhomberg.

The 2021 Changemaker Award is presented to “Scarborough,” dirs. Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson. Shasha Nakhai developed Scarborough at TIFF Industry in 2019 as an inaugural TIFF Talent Accelerator filmmaker.

TIFF’s Next Wave Committee provided this statement: “This film is etched on my heart. Scarborough is an utterly captivating and earth-shattering story of three intertwined families who are no strangers to hardship. Through the charms of misfits and unlikely heroes, directors Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson pose big social questions while framing them in a real and affirming story of resilience, community, and love. Written and directed with power and grace, this film truly feels like home.”

Directors Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson offered this statement: “Thank you to TIFF for giving this film a platform. It has been a really long and challenging road to get here, and we are so grateful to the TIFF Next Wave Committee and the Shawn Mendes Foundation for this award. We’re happy folks are coming away from the film feeling moved, seen, and affirmed, with a renewed commitment to community — and what we hope is a renewed commitment to resisting the forces that seek to erase, fracture, and monetize community. We are excited to bring this film to wider audiences after the Festival, and especially looking forward to using it as a tool to support the front-line work already being done on the myriad issues that it tackles.”


Canada Goose embraces diversity in all its forms and definitions, including technique and passion that transports storytelling to the screen. This year, Canada Goose presents the Amplify Voices Awards to the three best feature films by under-represented filmmakers. All feature films in Official Selection by emerging BIPOC filmmakers and Canadian filmmakers were eligible for these awards, and the three winners will receive a cash prize of $10,000 each, made possible by Canada Goose.

The three Amplify Voices Awards presented by Canada Goose winners are:

A scene from “Ste. Anne” (Photo courtesy of Exovedate Productions)

Amplify Voices Award for Best Canadian Feature Film: “Ste. Anne,” dir. Rhayne Vermette
Jury’s statement: “Rhayne Vermette’s debut feature shows us a unique vision that makes full use of all the tools of filmmaking to lure us into its emotional topography. Deeply personal yet inviting, Ste. Anne is true cinematic art made in a setting that’s often missing from the landscape of Canadian film.”

Special Mention: “Scarborough,” dirs. Shasha Nakhai, Rich Williamson
Jury’s statement: “With a strong sense of place, Scarborough tells a heartfelt story about community that charms with great performances from its actors, both young and old.”

Yasmin Warsame and Omar Abdi in “The Grave Digger’s Wife” (Photo courtesy of Orange Studio)

Amplify Voices Award: “The Gravedigger’s Wife,” dir. Khadar Ayderus Ahmed
Jury’s statement: “At once specific to Somali culture and universally recognizable, The Gravedigger’s Wife tells a deeply romantic tale that’s both emotionally and visually textured. With Omar Abdi as its magnetic lead, Guled’s journey captivates from the first scene to the final frame.”

A scene from “A Night of Knowing Nothing” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

Amplify Voices Award: “A Night of Knowing Nothing,” dir. Payal Kapadia
Jury’s statement: “Payal Kapadia’s unique documentary balances the personal and political with a surprising snapshot of her home country. Shocking at times, but also sweeping in its beauty, A Night of Knowing Nothing is a first feature that already demonstrates her strong voice as a filmmaker.”

The 2021 jurors for the Amplify Voices Awards presented by Canada Goose are Yung Chang, Calvin Thomas, Kaniehtiio Horn, Hugh Gibson, and Aisha Jamal.


A scene from “Displaced” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

The 2021 IMDbPro Short Cuts Awards are for Best Film, Best Canadian Film, and the Share Her Journey Award for best film by a woman. Each winning film will receive a bursary of $10,000 CAD and a one-year membership to IMDbPro, the essential resource for entertainment industry professionals, to help them continue achieving success in their careers. These awards build on IMDbPro’s nearly 20-year history of empowering entertainment professionals to discover new talent and projects, and on its ongoing commitment to supporting and collaboratively working with organizations that create greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the entertainment industry, including TIFF’s Share Her Journey campaign.

The winners of the three awards are:

IMDbPro Short Cuts Award for Best Film: “Displaced,” dir. Samir Karahoda
Jury’s statement: “Standing out in a strong selection of films, Samir Karahoda’s Displaced captivated us with its unique look, locations, and characters that all brought to life the quixotic yet enduring dedication to a sport — and a country — that is hard to articulate, even to one’s self.”

Honourable Mention: “Trumpets in the Sky,” dir. Rakan Mayasi

IMDbPro Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Film: “Angakusajaujuq – The Shaman’s Apprentice,” dir. Zacharias Kunuk

Jury’s statement: “’Zacharias Kunuk’s Angakusajaujuq – The Shaman’s Apprentice’ is an enthralling stop-motion that encapsulates an array of textures, sound, and nuanced expressions that collectively invite you into the apprentice’s journey in learning traditional knowledge and caring for community while confronting your own fears. You can’t help but feel the questions asked of the apprentice are for us all to consider: Who are you? What have you learned?”

Honourable Mention: “Nuisance Bear,” dirs. Jack Weisman, Gabriela Osio Vanden

IMDbPro Short Cuts Share Her Journey Award: “ASTEL,” dir. Ramata-Toulaye Sy
Jury’s statement: “Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s ASTEL moved us with its powerful storytelling, beautiful shots, and a captivating lead performance that explores the complex nuances of womanhood, patriarchy, and coming of age when you least expect it.”

Honourable mention: “Love, Dad,” dir. Diana Cam Van Nguyen

The 2021 jurors for the IMDbPro Short Cuts Awards are filmmakers Sudeep Sharma, Tiffany Hsiung, and Nicole Delaney.

Today the Toronto International Film Festival, alongside the International Federation of Film
Critics (FIPRESCI) and the Network for the Promotion of Asia Pacific Cinema (NETPAC), announced award winners for work screened at TIFF 2021.


“We are thrilled to announce that ‘Anatolian Leopard’ has received the 2021 FIPRESCI Jury Award,” said Diana Sanchez, Senior Director, Film, TIFF. “Every year we are amazed at the creativity and audaciousness of the filmmakers in our line-up. ‘Anatolian Leopard,’ directed by Emre Kayiş, is no exception.”

Hatice Aslan in “Anatolian Leopard” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

This year’s FIPRESCI jury members include: Andrew Kendall, Esin Kücüktepepinar, Caspar Salmon, Gilbert Seah, and Teresa Vena.

The 2021 FIPRESCI jury released the following statement: “In a perfectly controlled comedy of manners, ‘Anatolian Leopard’ takes the temperature of a country torn between the old ways and modernity – not to say between honour and corruption – while offering up a melancholy portrait of a man at odds with his surroundings. Emre Kayiş shows great formal accomplishment in this measured and thoughtful film, which stood out from the competition for its singular tone and worldview.”


Saleh Bakri and Nadine Labaki in “Costa Brava, Lebanon” (Photo courtesy of MK2 Films)

The 2021 NETPAC jury members include: Gemma Cubero del Barrio, Isabelle Glachant and Elhum Shakerifar. TIFF is delighted to announce that the 2021 NETPAC Jury has selected “Costa Brava, Lebanon,” directed by Mounia Aklas this year’s NETPAC winner. The jury released this statement, “’Costa Brava, Lebanon’ – an exquisite intergenerational family story – is an ode to sustainable futures by visionary new talent, Mounia Akl from her precious and troubled country.”

Please visit for more information.


This fall, TIFF Bell Lightbox reopens its doors to audiences for year-round programming with a full roster of new titles, Festival hits, and beloved favourites. TIFF programming will restart with the Festival Midnight Madness body-horror smash hit “Titane,” from director Julia Ducournau (“Raw”). “Titane” begins screening October 1 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Starting October 14, TIFF also invites audiences to enjoy Welcome Back, TIFF Cinematheque’s lineup of big-screen favourites — including Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy,” Jane Campion’s “The Portrait of a Lady,” Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich,” and Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail.”

Following a highly anticipated Special Event Festival screening of “Dune,” TIFF Cinematheque presents The Uncanny Vision of Denis Villeneuve, an in-cinema programme of the filmmaker’s earlier works (Arrival, Enemy, August 32nd on Earth), as well as films selected by Villeneuve that have inspired him throughout his career (David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Le Mystère Picasso”). The Uncanny Vision of Denis Villeneuve begins October 15.

Rounding out the Fall Season in-cinema lineup is In Case You Missed It, a selection of acclaimed titles from recent Festivals, starting on October 6. Audiences who may have missed their chance the first time around will now have the opportunity to have the full theatrical experience for titles like Kazik Radwanski’s “Anne at 13,000 ft,” Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari,” and Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland,” winner of TIFF 2020’s People’s Choice Award. Additional programming will be announced in the coming weeks.

TIFF is also pleased to announce that digital offerings will continue for film lovers across the country. TIFF patrons across Canada can experience Ann Shin’s A.rtificial I.mmortality, David Lowery’s The Green Knight and Heidi Ewing’s I Carry You With Me, among other titles, from the comfort of their homes via digital TIFF Bell Lightbox.

COVID-19 health and safety measures will continue as TIFF Bell Lightbox reopens for year-round operation. As of September 22, audience members and visitors entering TIFF Bell Lightbox will be required to show proof they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Masks remain mandatory throughout the building, including in cinema. Additional details are available at

Learn more about the Every Story fund at

The 46th Toronto International Film Festival ran September 9–18, 2021.

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Review: ‘Montana Story,’ starring Haley Lu Richardson and Owen Teague

September 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Haley Lu RIchardson and Owen Teague in “Montana Story” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

“Montana Story”

Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel

Culture Representation: Taking place in Montana’s Paradise Valley, the drama “Montana Story” features a cast of white and Native American characters (with one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An estranged brother and sister have a tension-filled reunion after their father is in a coma, and the two siblings end up confronting some dark family secrets.

Culture Audience: “Montana Story” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted and realistically crafted dramas about dysfunctional families.

Owen Teague and Haley Lu RIchardson in “Montana Story” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

“Montana Story” shows in nuanced and heartbreaking ways how a rift in a family can come not just from damaging words and actions but also by what’s been left unsaid. It’s an emotionally genuine and contemplative story of a tense family reunion between a brother and a sister who have not seen and spoken to each other in seven years. The movie also touches on issues of euthanasia, controversies over pipelines running through Native American land, and the daily struggles of working-class people who are a few paychecks away from financial ruin. “Montana Story”—written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel—had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The movie unfolds in layers to reveal the reasons why siblings Cal (played by Owen Teague) and Erin (played by Haley Lu Richardson) have been estranged for seven years. The full story of why Cal and Erin became alienated from each other comes out about halfway through the film. Cal and Erin have both reunited at the Montana ranch of their widowed attorney father Wade (played by Rob Story), who has been in a coma from a stroke and is not expected to recover. Although the movie does not name any cities where the story takes place, “Montana Story” was filmed on location in Montana’s Paradise Valley, in the cities of Bozeman, Livingston and Ringling. The movie’s cinematography (by Giles Nuttgens) of this Montana outdoor scenery is suitably breathtaking.

The ranch where Wade is bedridden in a coma is the same home where Cal and Erin grew up. Cal, who is 22, is a quiet and introverted bachelor who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He’s an aspiring civil engineer who currently works for Cheyenne’s city planning department. Cal arrives at the family home first by driving there in his own car. Cal doesn’t know it yet, but Erin is about to show up for a surprise visit.

Erin, who is 25, is a feisty and stubborn bachelorette who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. She works as a cook at a farm-to-table restaurant, and she is deeply concerned about environmental issues. Erin has traveled by airplane to go to Montana and doesn’t have a rental car. She uses a rideshare service to go to and from the airport.

It’s mentioned later in the story that Cal and Erin have two different mothers, who are both deceased. These two mothers are not shown in flashbacks but are briefly described in the movie through conversations. Erin’s mother Libby, who was Cal’s wife, died when she gave birth to Erin. Libby is described as the greatest love of Wade’s life.

Cal’s mother Connie was the nanny who took care of Erin after Libby died. Connie, who died in a car accident two years ago, is described as someone who knew that Wade didn’t love her as much as he loved Libby, but Connie loved Wade anyway. Connie and Wade never married each other, but they lived together and raised Erin and Cal.

Before Erin shows up for her surprise visit, Cal braces himself for some of the difficult but inevitable experiences of a family member who has to prepare for a loved one to die. When Cal goes inside the home, he doesn’t immediately go into the bedroom where Wade is in a coma, because it will be the first time that Cal will see his father in this condition. Instead, Cal goes into his childhood bedroom, which has been kept exactly the way he left it when he moved out of the family home to go to college in Wyoming. The way he looks around the room is the way someone might look at a mausoleum filled with long-buried memories.

When Cal does go into the room to see his father (who is hooked up to a ventilating machine), the expression on Cal’s face shows a range of emotions. It’s the look of someone who’s had a love/hate relationship with a parent and doesn’t quite know how to process that this parent is unable to communicate. How do you reconcile with someone who’s in coma?

There are two people who have been taking care of the day-to-day duties of the household. The part-time housekeeper Valentina (played by Kimberly Guerrero) has been a longtime employee of the family. Valentina has known Erin and Cal since they were children. Wade’s home care aide, who is being paid for by state government assistance, is a Kenyan immigrant named Ace (played by Gilbert Owuor). Cal and Ace meet for the first time when Cal comes home to visit Wade, who isn’t expected to live much longer.

Valentina and Ace are very kind and compassionate. Ace tells Cal that although Wade is in a coma and cannot communicate, Wade’s brain is still functioning. It’s this piece of information that probably motivates Cal to do something in one of the more emotionally powerful scenes in the movie.

Wade used to be a financially successful attorney. But something happened (some of the details are revealed but not all) that resulted in him filing for bankruptcy before he had a stroke. It’s why all of his medical bills are being paid for by government benefits and why the family ranch (which is in Wade’s name) is going to be sold after Wade dies. Wade apparently has no other immediate relatives besides his two children.

Cal has to meet with an attorney named Don (played by played by John Ludin) to gets these matters sorted. Don tells Wade that the sale of the ranch should be enough to pay for Wade’s medical bills that would have to be paid by any heirs. Don advises Cal to sell Wade’s car, since the car is no longer of any use to Wade.

The ranch used to be thriving and had several animals, including horses. There still a few remaining animals, such as chickens, but now there is only one horse on the property: a 25-year-old black stallion named Mr. T. Because of the Mr. T’s advanced age and arthritis, it’s unlikley that anyone will buy the horse, so Cal takes Don’s advice to arrange for Mr. T to get euthanized.

When Erin arrives at the ranch, Cal is in complete shock. It’s revealed that Erin had run away from home at age 18 and cut off contact with all of her family members. Cal had tried to get in touch with her, but she eventually changed her phone number and never told anyone in her family where she was.

When she sees Cal again all these years later, Erin is cold and abrupt. She explains the only reason why she’s there is to see their father one last time before he dies. How did Erin find out about Wade being in a coma? Cal asks this question and Erin tells him. (The answer won’t be revealed in this review.)

As the two siblings spend time together in an already stressful situation, long-simmering resentments come to the surface. Viewers will notice that Erin and Cal have different ways of dealing with problems. Erin is more outspoken and determined to do what she thinks is right, even if it makes other people uncomfortable. Cal is more willing to compromise and is more likey to be a people pleaser.

It’s why Erin and Cal end up clashing over what to do about Mr. T, the family’s longtime horse. Erin is livid that Cal made plans to put down Mr. T. She’s so angry about it that she insists that she’s going to buy a truck and horse trailer and drive Mr. T all the way back to New York state with her. Of course, Erin and Cal’s arguments about the horse are just symptoms of a larger problems and traumatic family secrets, which the siblings eventually have to confront if they have a chance of healing their fractured relationship.

Although “Montana Story” is centered on Erin and Cal, the movie also brings up issues experienced by the supporting characters who are feeling the ripple effects of what will happen to them after Wade dies. Valentina has another part-time job at a retail store, which has just reduced her work hours. Based on worried conversations that Valentina has, she’s in danger of being financially ruined if she doesn’t have another job lined up in time after Wade dies.

And even though Ace is being paid by the state, he too is in a precarious financial situation because it’s unknown where he will find his next home care job. In a conversation that Ace has with Cal, Ace opens up about needing a steady job because he sends some of his income back to Kenya to help his family. It’s in these quiet moments that the movie shows how lives of working-class “gig” employees are often dangerously close to sinking them into poverty under unfortunate circumstances.

“Montana Story” also includes a brief snippet of a newscast reporting that a federal judge ordered the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The newscast mentions that this shutdown is a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which opposed the pipeline because of concerns that the pipeline would cause pollution in the water and land where many of the tribe members live. It just so happens that Vivian and her family are part of this tribe, so the pipeline is another added stress in her life.

Vivian has an adult son named Joey (played by Asivak Koostachin), who’s about the same age as Erin. Because of Valentina, Joey has known Erin and Cal for several years. Joey used to work at the ranch and now works part-time for a tow truck company, but he’s also hurting for money. Joey and Cal are happy to see each other. Joey is disappointed to hear that the ranch will be sold, but he understands why the decision was made.

Joey is also delighted to see Erin because it’s obvious that he’s had a longtime crush on her, but the feeling isn’t mutual. Erin has put Joey in the “friend zone,” which he has accepted, but his hopeful demeanor is of someone who still thinks there’s a small chance that Erin might change her mind. Another tribe member named Mukki (played by Eugene Brave Rock) ends up playing an important role in Erin’s plans for Mr. T.

“Montana Story” isn’t an action-packed movie. It moves along at a pace that’s entirely realistic for rural and isolated areas. And this isn’t a melodramatic and talkative movie where people get into arguments every 10 minutes. What makes “Montana Story” better than the average family drama is how it uses moments of silence to depict unspoken hurt and regrets.

For example, there’s a scene where Cal and Erin are driving somewhere in Cal’s car. He fills her in on what his life has been like since they last saw each other. Cal seems very eager to share this information, and there’s a sense that he wants Erin’s approval. But she doesn’t say anything in response to finding out these major updates in his life. Her lack of response seems to be partly out of spite and partly because she doesn’t really know what to say. The look on Cal’s face is of someone who is crushed by his sister’s aloofness.

And that’s why Richardson and Teague are so perfectly cast for this movie, which has just the right tone and direction from writer/directors McGehee and David Siegel. There are so many moments in “Montana Story” where Richardson and Teague convey emotions (and repression fo emotions) with their facial expressions and body language that other actors wouldn’t be able to convey, even if they had all these feelings spelled out for them in articulate lines of dialogue. Without the admirable performances of Richardson and Teague, “Montana Story” would not be as emotionally resonant as it is.

“Montana Story” could be described as understated or low-key, compared to other dramas about family members dealing with grudges and estrangement. In addition to the siblings’ issues with each other, Cal and Erin had a very difficult relationship with their father. Those hard feelings don’t automatically disappear when someone is close to death. It’s an uncomfortable truth that “Montana Story” shows in various shades and details that don’t have a single moment of “only in a movie” phoniness.